With six games remaining, Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos has 55 goals and a legitimate shot at 60. Only two players have scored more in the past decade – Jonathan Cheechoo and Alex Ovechkin – and Stammer is still just 22 years old. Meanwhile, Tyler Seguin has taken over as Boston’s go-to scorer as a sophomore, leading the team with 61 points through 75 games. James Neal has been a revelation for the Penguins, nearly doubling his offensive production from last year and smashing his previous career high by 20 points. Carolina’s Jeff Skinner is on nearly the same points-per-game pace as last year’s Calder Trophy-winning season, despite missing 16 games to a concussion and two to suspension.
What do all these players have in common? They all train with Gary Roberts in the off-season.
And I have a sneaking suspicion that next year’s breakout player in the NHL will be Buffalo’s Cody Hodgson.
Not surprisingly, the newest Sabres weapon is also a client of ‘Scary’ Gary and whatever subterfuge has been out there in the past about Hodgson’s attitude can pretty much be tossed out the window based on the company he keeps in the summer. Simply put, Roberts does not mess around. What the former NHLer preaches is no less than a lifestyle decision, where players commit themselves to both rigorous workouts and nutrition rites involving organic food and the right kinds of it.
The techniques in training may be different from other gurus – Roberts isn’t a fan of stationary bikes, but does use unique weightlifting methods and sled-pulls – but that’s not the be-all, end-all of his method. The all-around commitment is a big factor.
Starting with Stamkos’ Rocket Richard Trophy season in 2010, there has been a Roberts client in the headlines every season. Skinner followed in ’11, while Neal and Seguin stepped it up this year (Seguin has excelled with more minutes in Boston and has nearly tripled his rookie output).
Now we find Hodgson poised for a surge. On a Sabres team where scoring is more evenly distributed among players, the rookie center has more opportunities to shine than he did on his former team, the Vancouver Canucks. Playing behind Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler meant that Hodgson would never get the minutes necessary to fully demonstrate his worth, so the trade that sent bruiser Zack Kassian to Van City was truly a blessing for the 10th overall pick in 2008.
I recognize Buffalo’s season technically isn’t over yet. Indeed, the Sabres currently sit eighth in the conference and now that Hodgson has settled in, he has become an effective producer for his new squad. He may even continue that streak into the post-season. The same thing was seen in Seguin last year, when the B’s rookie had some huge playoff games when injuries to teammates opened the door.
But for the full Seguin experience, we really had to wait until this year, when he was entrenched in the lineup. Same goes for Hodgson. Another summer under Roberts’ tutelage and the youngster will be that much more stronger and prepared. The Sabres depth chart likely won’t change too much, based on the locked-in contracts that pepper the roster, so Hodgson pretty much knows where he stands. As a member of the Canucks, the most he played in a game was 16:41 and he only crested the 16-minute mark four times in 63 appearances. With Buffalo, he’s bested that number 13 times in 15 games and played as much as 21:48.
So don’t be surprised if history repeats itself with another Gary Roberts client next season.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN’s associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.