VANCOUVER Canucks fans will be happy when Ryan Kesler steps onto the ice for the first time this season in tonight’s game against the New York Rangers.
When he does, he will resume his role as the team’s undisputed second line center. And that begs the question what will the Canucks do with Cody Hodgson?
Young Hodgson has looked good in his short five game stint centering the second line. He has shown good offensive zone instincts and quickness. His confidence has grown noticeably each game. Granted it is just a five game audition, but for the first time we can all see that Cody Hodgson has what it takes to play at the National Hockey League level. It is on the second line that Hodgson needs to continue playing in order to develop his potential. The problem is Hodgson will have to move to one of the wings in order to achieve his potential in Vancouver.
Playing out of position on the wing is far easier than moving to the middle. But not every player makes the transition. Hodgson’s lack of foot speed and especially his lack of size could be further exposed on the wall. Given that Kesler plays a speed and power game from center might mitigate those concerns a bit. Kesler could really benefit from a puck savvy winger who can pass the puck quickly on the transition and then wisely jump into openings that Kesler leaves in his wake. Should Hodgson and Kesler be able to manufacture some chemistry, it could be the best thing for the Canucks and for Hodgson.
In the past coach Alain Vigneault has, for whatever reason, shown little love toward Hodgson. He has never really placed him in a position to succeed and has never shown much interest in developing him. Things may be different this time around though, as the Vancouver Canucks badly need a top six forward to play with Kesler. The Canucks need a true second line that can support the Sedins/Burrows line offensively. As good as Ryan Kesler is, he can not provide that by himself. Vigneault needs Hodgson to emerge, as it would appear that Hodgson is the only player in the system who can fill the bill. It is a pretty safe bet that Hodgson will be lining up with Kesler on the second line over the next few weeks.
The general manager also needs Hodgson to come alive. None of the draft picks of Mike Gillis have made any impact yet. In fact, the key core players on this team were all inherited from previous management. Outside of Dan Hamhuis and Manny Malhotra, Gillis’s additions to this roster have been poor to average (Mats Sundin, anyone?).
Should Hodgson fail on the wing, the Canucks may have to consider trading him in order to get that desired top six forward. The Canucks window of opportunity for winning the Stanley Cup remains open for another couple of years, so the organizational mandate is to win it all now. If that means moving out a top prospect, like Michael Grabner previously, because he can’t crack this loaded roster, then so be it. Which is unfortunate, as the Canucks really do not have a lot great prospects in the system. And usually sacrificing the future is never a good long term recipe for success. But neither Hodgson nor Grabner would have succeeded on the Canucks third or fourth lines. So moving them for better puzzle pieces makes sense.
Cody Hodgson will be a good NHL player. The question remains will he be a good NHL player in Vancouver. All Canucks fans hope the answer is yes.
Joe Pelletier is a freelance hockey writer based in Terrace. Check out his website GreatestHockeyLegends.com and his new ebook atPucksOnTheNet.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @HockeyLegends