Cody Hodgson will be wearing green this season, but it’ll be the military shade of the Ontario League’s Brampton Battalion, not the brighter trim of the Vancouver Canucks.
As the son of a politician, Hodgson surely will publicly handle his demotion with grace, but inside you have to think he’s gutted. After all, the high-scoring center with the quick hockey mind was easily one of the off-season candidates for the Calder Trophy this year and was coming off an outstanding world juniors performance and deep OHL playoff run.
But not much of that matters now. Injuries and the grim meat-hook realities of playing against the best competition in the world (“I see an opening and I just can’t get to it,” Hodgson told the Vancouver Province after he struggled in one particular pre-season game) conspired against the young man and the Canucks aren’t a charity this year – they’ve got Stanley Cup dreams.
Hodgson was not going to play on the top two lines in Vancouver and he’s not a shutdown center, so why keep him up to play on the fourth line for sparse minutes with linemates better known for fighting or grinding?
Ironically, Evander Kane will get an opportunity to shine in Atlanta this season precisely because he can play on any line. The Thrashers upped their forward corps this summer, bringing in Nik Antropov and Maxim Afinogenov to augment star Ilya Kovalchuk and fellow top-sixers Todd White, Bryan Little and Slava Kozlov (not to mention the Rich Peverley Experience). But Kane proved at the world juniors last winter he can thrive as a fourth-liner, using his crashing style to create turnovers and offense.
Naturally, the fourth overall pick’s future is on a scoring line, but Atlanta is a team that can spread out the minutes and let Kane work his way up the ladder.
So what can Hodgson do back in junior? With Brampton, the answer is “not much.” The Battalion has been gutted by attrition this year – top players Matt Duchene (Colorado), Evgeny Grachev (American League Hartford) and goalie Thomas McCollum (AHL Grand Rapids) are all gone – and the cupboard wasn’t exactly restocked.
Hodgson can hit the gym hard, captain Canada’s world junior entry and join the AHL’s Manitoba Moose as soon as Brampton’s season is over, which will likely be before the playoffs begin.
There is one more option, though. As my colleague John Grigg pointed out, Brampton could be merciful and trade Hodgson to a contender. The Battalion would get a boatload of future goodies for the best player in the league, while Hodgson would get something to shoot for: an OHL title and a Memorial Cup, both of which have eluded him so far.
The Windsor Spitfires are a juggernaut this season, but adding Hodgson to an already loaded competitor – Plymouth, Barrie or Mississauga-St. Mike’s, for example – would at least put some spark into the race.
That way, Hodgson can follow the same route as Toronto draft pick Nazem Kadri, who had a much better NHL camp, but will still return to the OHL for more seasoning. Kadri, whose No. 1 dog role with the London Knights was usurped by John Tavares midway through last season, can regain that post this year.
Like Hodgson, Kadri can hit the weight room and get excited for the world juniors. Right now, Kadri can also aim to put up 100 points with the Knights and prepare for a spirited playoff run. If fate smiles upon Hodgson, he’ll have something tangible to play towards in the spring as well. But even if he stays in Brampton all year, it’s important for the pivot to remember the future of his NHL career isn’t based on one bad camp.
And surely the Canucks will be keeping tabs on how Hodgson handles a little adversity.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly throughout the off-season, his column – The Straight Edge – on Fridays, and his prospect feature – The Hot List – on Tuesdays.
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