I was muckracking my brain at the last time a Canuck prospect was such a polarizing player among fans before Cody Hodgson was. There's been quite a bit of chatter over Tony Gallagher's latest piece at The National Post.
In a year when second-line centre Ryan Kesler is hurt and there is finally an opportunity to get the gifted prospect a bona fide look in a top six spot in his right position, the first signal the player gets from his coach is yet another shot across the bow.
After eating all that humble pie by publicly stating that he wasn’t going to worry about how he was used and that he was going to concentrate on making sure he had the right attitude and worry about his own game, the first thing his coach does is send him to Calgary on the day of the game and start him with a couple of stiffs in Victor Oreskovich and Mike Duco.
Indeed. Cody Hodgson had less ice time than the following forwards in the preseason game in Calgary: Steven Anthony, Niko Dimitrakos, Alex Friesen, Mark Mancari. Neither of those players I'd expect to make the NHL Canucks (sorry, Stanch) by any stretch of the imagination. So why the ice-time discrepancy?
Ryan Kesler did not have a 20-year old season due to the lockout. In his 19-year old season, however, he was already on the Canucks. He played 28 games and did nothing terribly impressive with the Canucks or the Manitoba Moose. This brings us to our noon number: In a year where the Canucks were still pretty deep at centre (Brendan Morrison, Henrik Sedin, Artem Chubarov), the 2004 team found a way to put Ryan Kesler, warts and all, in the game for 10.71 minutes per game.
10.71 is important. Last season, Hodgson saw 7.16 minutes of ice-time as a 20-year old. He can also play the wing, and the Canucks had some injuries over the course of last season (Malhotra, Samuelsson, Raymond) and even found a place to play Peter Schaefer, a none-too-useless player, for 9.67 last season.
Let it be known, that Hodgson and Kesler are not comparable players outside of junior pedigree. Both had very strong careers as teenagers. One broke into the NHL early, one held back for whatever reason. It could be due to the salary cap, but Mike Gillis and Laurence Gilman have made enough creative maneuvers to pretty well fit anybody they bloody well please into the roster. It's unlikely that this is due to a rift between Hodgson and Alain Vigneault, but I suspect it's mostly because the Canucks right now currently do not know how to develop their own players.
Luckily, the Canucks showed patience with Kesler and, even though they didn't necessarily baby him along in game situations, they let him compete. Hodgson unfortunately had an injury that kept him out of the majority of last season but from all indications that's a thing of the past. Developing prospects is key in the new salary cap, since having a rookie play with you full-time, particularly one drafted late in the draft, is a cost-effective way to put a decent player on your team. It's science. It's #MoneyPuck, and the Canucks are not good at this aspect. The last Canuck draft-pick to become a full-time regular with the team? Mason Raymond, selected in the 2nd round of 2005.
The treatment of Sergei Shirokov last season compared with the treatment of Hodgson now? Similar. Give him ice-time, give him line mates, and let him play hockey. He's good.