VANCOUVER – Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis made a splash prior to the trade deadline Monday.
Just before the 3 p.m. ET deadline, the Canucks GM shipped rookie centre Cody Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres for winger Zack Kassian. Both are former first-round draft choices.
The Canucks also sent rarely used defenceman Alexander Sulzer to the Sabres for defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani as part of the four-player deal.
“It’s a new opportunity and we’ll see what happens,” Hodgson, 21, told TSN shortly after the deal was reported. “But I have mixed emotions.”
Ironically, Hodgson and Sulzer were walking back to the Canucks’ hotel in Glendale, Ariz., when they learned of the trade.
Hodgson’s departure ends a sometimes turbulent relationship with the Canucks. After the 21-year-old Toronto native was drafted by Vancouver in the first round in 2008 (10th overall), he suffered a back injury during a team-supervised off-ice training session in 2009.
When Hodgson struggled in the 2009 preseason, coach Alain Vigneault questioned the seriousness of the injury.
But the problem went undiagnosed for months, forcing Hodgson to miss most of his final junior season with the Brampton Batallion of the OHL and also caused him to miss playing a second time for Canada’s world junior team. The injury was finally diagnosed as a torn muscle prior to the 2010-11 season, which he split with the Canucks and their former AHL farm team in Manitoba before becoming a mainstay this season.
“I’m still very shocked right now,” said Hodgson.
Kassian, a 21-year-old Windsor, Ont., native, has three goals and four assists in 27 games with the Sabres this season, his first in the NHL. He was drafted 13th overall by Buffalo in 2009.
“I was not expecting this at all,” Kassian told TSN.
The six-foot-three and 228-pound winger is looked upon for toughness that Vancouver lacked during last spring’s Stanley Cup final. But it remains to be seen how much he will play after splitting this season between Buffalo and its AHL farm club in Rochester, N.Y.
“I like to be physical, but at the same time make plays and chip in offensively,” said Kassian, adding he also likes to stick up for teammates.
Sulzer, a 27-year-old native of Kaufbeuren, Germany, was a career minor-league player before signing with the Canucks as a free agent last summer. He was a healthy scratch during most of the past two months.
Earlier on Monday, the Canucks acquired veteran centre Samuel Pahlsson from the Columbus Blue Jackets for minor-league defenceman Taylor Ellington and two 2012 fourth-round draft picks. Gragnani, a 24-year-old Montreal native who was drafted in the third round (87th overall) by Buffalo in 2005, had one goal and 11 assists in his first full season with the Sabres after spending most of the past four campaigns in the minors.
Pahlsson is expected to take Hodgson’s place on Vancouver’s third line. Pahlsson, a 34-year-old native of Ange, Sweden, recorded two goals and nine assists in Columbus this season.
He was a perennial thorn in Vancouver’s side while playing eight seasons for the Anaheim Ducks and briefly with Chicago late in the 2008-’09 season, when he helped the Blackhawks eliminate the Canucks from the playoffs. He signed as a free agent with Columbus in 2009.
He won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2006-07, when he recorded three goals and nine assists in 21 playoff games. He also was a member of Sweden’s Olympic gold medal-winning team in 2006.
During his NHL career, Pahlsson has compiled 66 goals and 127 assists for 193 points in 779 regular-season games and added nine goals and 19 assists in 81 playoff games.
He was originally drafted in the 10th round (176 overall) by Colorado in 1996, but never played for the Avalanche. He was dealt to the Boston Bruins in a multi-player trade for Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk that helped Colorado win the Stanley Cup at the March 2000 trade deadline.
Pahlsson only played 17 games with the Bruins before he was dealt to Anaheim in November 2000.
He is earning US$2.65 million and due to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer.
Once considered a hot prospect, Ellington, a 23-year-old Victoria, B.C., native who was drafted in the second round (33rd overall in 2007), has spent most of his four-year pro career in the ECHL. He has seven goals and 15 assists with Kalamazoo this season.
In another deal, Vancouver obtained right-winger Andrew Gordon from the Anaheim Ducks for defenceman Sebastien Erixon.
Gordon, a 26-year-old Halifax native, was Washington’s 197th overall choice in 2004. He had two goals and three assists in 19 games with the Ducks this season and also spent time with their AHL affiliate in Syracuse, N.Y.
Erixon, a 22-year-old native of Sundsvall, Sweden, has played exclusively in the minors this season with Vancouver’s AHL affiliate in Chicago. He was signed as a free agent in April 2011.