VANCOUVER – What looked like a paved highway to the NHL has turned into a long, bumpy gravel road for Cody Hodgson.
The journey has taken longer than Hodgson had expected but the Vancouver Canucks’ former first-round draft pick remains optimistic he will arrive.
“There’s been ups and downs,” Hodgson said Friday after the Canucks practised at Rogers Arena. “I’m feeling good where I am now.”
This will be Hodgson’s fourth training camp in Vancouver. He’s played a total of eight regular-season NHL games.
Selke-trophy winning centre Ryan Kesler is expected to miss the start of the season due to hip surgery, opening a spot on the Canucks’ second line. It’s up to Hodgson to convince coach Alain Vigneault he’s the player capable of filling the role.
“I’m coming in with the same approach as always,” Hodgson said.
“Everybody has the same opportunity. You need to play well to make the team. Hopefully things go well and it will sort things out.”
Hodgson has played in two exhibition games for Vancouver this fall. While his linemates haven’t always been NHL calibre he’s managed to get noticed.
The 21-year-old from Markharm, Ont., had three scoring chances in the Canucks 2-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night. He also killed penalties and won 15 of 24 draws.
“I’m feeling good on the ice,” said Hodgson. “It would have been nice to bury a few chances I’ve had. The goals will come I believe if you keep playing the right way.
“I will continue what I have done in the past, play the way I can. The way I can play will hopefully fit in here.”
Vigneault has liked what he’s seen from Hodgson so far.
“He has come here in great shape,” Vigneault said. “He has come focused and with an excellent attitude.”
Hodgson spent the summer training with former NHL player Gary Roberts. The six-foot, 185-pound centre looks like he has added some muscle even though the Canucks had a short summer following their run to the Stanley Cup final.
“It’s been a great summer and I worked hard,” he said.
“I feel really good. I feel lighter out there, I feel stronger. It’s a good feeling.”
Hodgson has always been praised for his intelligence on the ice. He sees the game well and is a strong two-way player.
The knock against him has been his skating. There also are questions if he can play a physical game.
The Canucks have been criticized in the past for leaving Hodgson to toil on the third and fourth lines. A player with a scoring touch, he’s often been given wingers more known for throwing bodychecks than collecting goals.
In Vancouver’s opening pre-season game against Calgary, Hodgson centred a line with Victor Oreskovich and Mike Duco. Between them, the pair have managed two NHL goals.
In Friday’s long practice Hodgson skated between Marco Sturm and Mikael Samuelsson.
Hodgson has become very guarded in his comments to reporters. He doesn’t want to be perceived as complaining or wanting to cause trouble.
Asked about his chances of starting the season with the Canucks, Hodgson shrugged.
“Everybody has an equal opportunity here,” he said. “We’ll do what we can on the ice and see what happens.
“Everybody has a fresh start. I’m looking forward to it.”
There were great expectations for Hodgson when Vancouver selected him 10th overall in the 2008 draft.
Playing for the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League, Hodgson was named the top player in Canadian junior hockey in 2009. He won a gold medal playing for Canada at the 2009 world junior championships and led the tournament in scoring.
In 197 regular season games in junior he had 114 goals and 243 points.
He injured his back preparing for the Canucks’ 2009 training camp. The nature of the injury was misdiagnosed. This led to speculation there was friction between Hodgson and the Canucks. He returned to play 13 games for Brampton.
Hodgson attended training camp again last year but was sent to the AHL Manitoba Moose. In December he suffered a broken orbital bone during a Moose practice.
In 52 games with the Moose Hodgson had 17 goals and 13 assists.
He was called up for his first NHL game on Feb. 1 against Dallas. Hodgson scored his first NHL goal the next night against Phoenix.
In eight games with the Canucks last season he had two points. Hodgson appeared in 12 playoff games, collecting one assist. He didn’t dress for any of the final against Boston.
“It was a great experience,” Hodgson said about the playoffs. “It was too bad we couldn’t have capped it off.
“I have learned a lot. Hopefully it can help me this season.”
Vigneault seems in no hurry to rush Hodgson into the NHL.
“He’s a very young man,” said Vigneault. “At 21 years old he’s still got a lot of good years in front of him. “Some players make the step at an early age. Some players, depending on where their development is, depending on the team (they) are playing for, sometimes there is room and sometimes there is not.
“In Cody’s case, he’s playing well right now. He has to take it one game at a time and put his best game on the ice.”