10 minutes into the first period of Wednesday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, Canucks fans got a chance to see a delightfully old-school moment: a slap-shot off the rush that rang off the post and in. That type of goal used to be a lot more common: the highlight reels from the 70′s and 80′s are full of players flying down the wing and unleashing a slapper from the top of the faceoff circle past a helpless goaltender. That just doesn’t happen anymore.
What was even more electrifying was who scored the goal: it was Cody Hodgson, the rookie, giving the fans a flashback to the golden years.
It was a surprise not just because of how rare the slap-shot goal off the rush has become, but also because we haven’t seen that side of Hodgson’s game yet. The majority of Hodgson’s shots this season seem to have been wristshots, with most of them being — to put it as nicely as possible — unimpressive.
Hodgson’s goal on Jimmy Howard Wednesday night should serve to remind everyone that he was considered to have one of the hardest shots in the junior leagues: he was voted as having the second hardest shot in 2009 by OHL coaches and the third hardest in 2010, the year he only played 13 regular season games. Clearly, OHL coaches respected his shot.
Suffice it to say, after the game, a lot of people began talking about Hodgson on Twitter, the radio, and the Canucks.com forums. Oddly enough, though, most of them weren’t talking about his gorgeous goal and his hellacious slap-shot. Instead, they were talking about his icetime.
Despite scoring an important goal, Hodgson had just over 9 minutes in icetime, 9:02 to be exact. That was more than fourth liners Dale Weise (8:01) and Andrew Ebbett (8:49), but less than Maxim Lapierre (9:46).
There are a fair number of Canucks fans and even members of the media who are baffled by this. It isn’t an isolated incident either: Hodgson is averaging just 12:40 in ice time per game. He’s currently 7th in rookie scoring in the league while playing fewer minutes than any other player in the top-14 in the category.
Sure, there are legitimate reasons why Hodgson did not get more ice time in that particular game — AV’s desire to use more experienced veterans as the Red Wings battled back, the lack of powerplays, which is where Hodgson picks up some of his extra minutes — but there’s no getting around the fact that Hodgson’s ice time is being limited. There’s just no denying it.
The question is why does anyone have a problem with that fact?
People seem to need a reminder that Hodgson is a rookie on a team with fantastic depth at forward, particularly at his centre position. While Vigneault has experimented with him on the wing at times, the team has a plethora of wingers, particularly top-six wingers. Even with David Booth out, Chris Higgins and Mason Raymond have been quick to entrench themselves as the best options on Kesler’s wings. Instead, Malhotra has been bumped to the wing on Hodgson’s line to help him grow into the role.
The team is also packed full of players who excel at special teams, leaving little room for an inexperienced rookie. Kesler, Malhotra, and Lapierre are all excellent penalty killing centres, while Burrows, Hansen, and Raymond are the go-to wingers, with Higgins a viable option as well. Hodgson has played an important role in making the second unit on the powerplay far more dangerous, but the powerplay opportunities have been drying up recently for the Canucks.
The issue is that Hodgson was a top-10 draft pick, was named the CHL Player of the Year in 2009, and led the 2009 World Junior Championship in scoring, ahead of number one pick John Tavares. Fans have expected him to immediately step into a top-six forward role; anything less is considered to be a failure of either Hodgson or coaching.
There’s an odd assumption that playing Hodgson in a non-top-six role will somehow ruin his development, that he would be better served playing 20 minutes a night on the top line for the Chicago Wolves than 12 minutes a night in the NHL learning from some of the best players in the game. It’s an assumption that doesn’t make any sense to me. So I decided to look at some of the recent top-six players for the Canucks and how many minutes they played in their rookie seasons. I wanted to see if they were “ruined” by playing few minutes or if they were somehow groomed for success by being immediately placed in offensive situations.
Let’s start with the biggest stars for the Canucks and, in my opinion, the greatest two Canucks of all time, Daniel and Henrik Sedin. In their rookie season in 2000-01, Daniel averaged 12:59 in ice time per game, just 19 seconds more than Hodgson is currently averaging. Henrik, on the other hand, was clearly favoured by the coaching staff, averaging 13:33 per game.
Alex Burrows is an interesting case: while he’s a member of the NHL’s best line now, he started as a bottom-six agitator, averaging just 10:24 per game back in 2005-06.
Mason Raymond, who has 7 points in 9 games since coming back from his devastating injury, averaged 12:31 in ice time per game in his rookie season of 2007-08.
What about Ryan Kesler, who is coming off a 41-goal season? He averaged just 10:42 in ice time per game in his rookie season back in 2003-04.
What about top-six forwards for the Canucks that started elsewhere? Well, Chris Higgins averaged a whopping 14:24 per game in his rookie season with the Canadiens in 2005-06, but he’s the outlier. Mikael Samuelsson averaged 11:51 with the Rangers back in 2001-02, while David Booth averaged just 9:33 in ice time for the Panthers in his 2006-07 rookie season.
This may come as a surprise, but all of these players are currently in the midst of some very successful careers as top-six forwards. Their ice time in their rookie seasons didn’t seem to affect them negatively at all in the long run.
Heck, let’s look at Markus Naslund, who still holds the franchise records for goals and points. While we don’t actually have the numbers for his ice time in his rookie season in 1993-94 as the NHL didn’t start keeping track of it (or at least making it public knowledge) until 1997-98. That was his second full season with the Canucks and fifth of his NHL career and he was coming off a 21-goal, 41-point season in 1996-97.
Naslund averaged just 12:35 per game in 1997-98. Hodgson is currently averaging 12:40 per game. Once again, Naslund is the franchise leader in goals and points; playing limited minutes early in his career did not prevent him from being a star in the NHL.
What’s most striking about this is that the players I’ve mentioned here have all succeeded for the Canucks. Some fans have suggested that trading Hodgson would be mutually beneficial, as the Canucks would gain a player or two for a playoff run while Hodgson would get more playing time on another team, but the Sedins, Burrows, Kesler, and Raymond all played limited minutes in their rookie seasons and grew into larger roles over time.
Hodgson is just 21 years old. He has a long NHL career ahead of him and all signs point to it being a very successful one. Limiting his ice time right now will not prevent him from being successful or contributing to the Canucks.Tags: Cody Hodgson, Stats