Can Cody Hodgson adjust to playing on the wing?

Unless you were on a media fast yesterday, you are aware that Ryan Kesler will be making his season debut tonight against the New York Rangers. It’s hoped that his return will aid the ailing penalty kill, boost the Canucks’ middle-of-the-road record at even-strength, and send them to the top of the NHL in faceoff percentage.

To make way for his return, Chris Tanev was sent down to the Chicago Wolves, and fellow waiver-exempt Canuck Cody Hodgson was not. Here’s the thing: Cody Hodgson is a natural centre and the Canucks now have five of those on their active roster. While this may do wonders for the team’s faceoff numbers, it means one of those centres will have to play on the wing. With Kesler and Henrik Sedin sewing up the top-six roles and Malhotra and Lapierre doing the yeoman’s work in the defensive zone, Hodgson will line-up alongside Kesler on the second line.

While this is a tremendous opportunity for the rookie, as Kesler has a tendency to be awesome, it also presents a challenge. Will Hodgson be able to adapt? If you ask Hodgson, it’s not going to change anything at all.

“Our system is based on first forward, second forward, third forward,” said Silent G yesterday, “so obviously the way we play, the centerman takes the draws, but after that, it’s whoever is F1, F2 or F3, they all have different responsibilities. I don’t think it’s going to change.”

Having never partaken in on-ice tactics, I turned to a former professional hockey player for some insight, namely Justin Bourne, editor of the superb hockey blog Backhand Shelf. According to Bourne, the transition from centre to wing isn’t much of a transition at all:

Centre, LW, RW are at best starting points these days, at worst, myths,” said Bourne. “When you head back into your d-zone, it’s not the centerman that plays D down low anymore – it’s the first forward back: F1. F2 heads to the slot, F3 to the strong side D-man.

“It’s the same on the forecheck – F1 is the first guy in the zone, he’s on the puck. F2 takes away the wall, while F3….you get the point. Long story short, after the faceoff, positions are determined by the players location to the puck, not their assigned position.

In this type of system, every forward needs to be spatially aware and responsible at all times, but it does make it easier to switch from position to position. Having both centres on the same line will also allow them to be more aggressive on faceoffs, knowing a reliable centre can come in and replace one who is tossed out of the circle. Add in the fact that Hodgson occasionally played on the wing for the Manitoba Moose and it seems possible that Hodgson could spend a long time paired with Kesler.

We were saying all summer that Kesler needed a playmaker on his line, hoping that it might be Jannik Hansen. Instead, it could be Cody Hodgson. If so, let the premature Calder trophy predictions begin.

Oh wait, they already did.

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5 comments

  1. madwag
    October 18, 2011

    Danielson

    It seems to me that if I were on a “media fast yesterday”, then I would not be aware that Kesler is playing tonight. Now you are the philosopher and thus cognizant of logic, so I am prepared to admit I may have misunderstood something here, but I don’t think so. “Look closely”, and tell me I’m wrong.

    Cheers

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    • Daniel Wagner
      October 18, 2011

      Ack, I rewrote part of that sentence and left a remnant behind. It has been fixed.

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      • Madwag
        October 18, 2011

        You’re welcome! I’d like to use this space to advise your readers that your post on Backhand Shelf, “George Stroumboulopoulos interviews Gary Bettman: ‘We don’t micromanage trash talk,’” is an enlightening look at a much maligned man. Well done, Sir!

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  2. Frank Nelissen
    October 18, 2011

    I’ve been wondering for a while now if Kesler could not be the power winger everybody is talking about with Hodgson filling the centre role. That would put the playmaker (=Hodgson) in the middle of the ice with strong options left and right. Moreover, Hodgson seems to go to the net hard as well.

    But the F1, F2 etc approach is even better. Far more flexible and thus more unpredictable. Should be fun watching these guys play together!

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  3. The Bookie
    October 19, 2011

    Don’t we have 7 centers if you count Ebbett and Higgins?

    heh I just realized our entire 2nd line can take potentially take face-offs. Sweet.

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