Don't Dismiss Cody Hodgson Quite Yet: A Look at His History in the OHL and NHL

Watching Cody Hodgson fan on what could have been the Sabres best scoring chance of the night on Tuesday against the Blues, an almost automatic “Hodgson, you suck!” resonated from somewhere up in the 300 level of the First Niagara Center.

Looking to win a bet? Place one on those same words being heard during any given home game. The odds of finding a person willing to take you up on that bet are slim, but it’s highly unlikely that the people expressing their hate filled opinions have looked at the season through the perspective of Mr. Cody Hodgson.

 The 10th overall draft pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft is a proven goal scorer in the NHL. It may come as a surprise to many, but last year Hodgson scored a NHL career-best 20 goals and led the Sabres in scoring with 44 total points. This year his stat line has been a different story; prompting many to completely dismiss his future on this Sabres team that is on the verge of a brighter future. In 50 games played this year, Hodgson has logged a career-worst 8 points (2 G, 6 A).

 His struggles have been well documented, causing the anti-Hodgson critics to continue but very little has been said as to why his struggles exist. It’s not like he instantly became a terrible hockey player over the summer before this season. In fact, many hockey experts projected Hodgson to follow up a very successful 2013-2014 season with an even better season this year.

To put a perspective on Hodgson’s struggles this year, one must look at his roller-coaster of a history playing for the Brampton Battalion of the OHL and eventually the Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres.

Hodgson was drafted 17th overall by the Brampton Battalion in the 2006 OHL Priority Selection. Notable names in this draft class were forward Steven Stamkos (1st overall), defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (3rd overall), and Nazim Kadri (18th overall). In his rookie season with the Battalion, Hodgson led the team in rookie scoring with 23 goals and 46 points, just 6 goals shy of being a top-50 goal scorer in the OHL and among the names of forwards John Tavares, Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, and Bobby Ryan.

  A young CODY HODGSON (19) looks for a deflection in front of the net against the London Knights of the OHL. During his 2008-09 season with the brampton Battalion Hodgson was fourth in the league for scoring, 2 points ahead of Taylor Hall. Image courtesy of Rich Lam/Getty Images

 

A young CODY HODGSON (19) looks for a deflection in front of the net against the London Knights of the OHL. During his 2008-09 season with the brampton Battalion Hodgson was fourth in the league for scoring, 2 points ahead of Taylor Hall.

Image courtesy of Rich Lam/Getty Images

With that kind of rookie season things were only looking up for Hodgson. Between 2007 and 2010, Hodgson tallied a total of 197 points for the Battalion and was fourth in league scoring after an impressive 92 point tally in the 2008-09 season, 2 points ahead of the now Edmonton Oiler’s forward superstar, Taylor Hall.

It was clear from Hodgson’s OHL success that he would be a perfect fit for a team looking to add scoring depth at either center or right wing. Between multiple call-ups and a plague of injuries, Hodgson finally made his NHL debut for the Vancouver Canucks on February 1st, 2011 against the Dallas Stars. Hodgson centered the fourth line and registered 2 shots in over 9 minutes of ice time in a 4-1 Canucks win. Hodgson would play 5 games for Vancouver before being sent back down to the Manitoba Moose, the Canuck’s AHL affiliate. In his first five games in the NHL, Hodgson netted a goal and added his first NHL assist on a Christian Ehrhoff goal. Vancouver management felt it necessary to send Hodgson back down to develop and gain more experience from logging more minutes in a larger role for Manitoba.

Hodgson’s next major shot at breaking into the NHL wouldn’t happen until the 2011-12 season. Canucks center Ryan Kesler underwent hip surgery, putting him out for the start of the 2011-12 season and Hodgson received a position as the team’s second line center, playing behind Henrik Sedin on the Canuck’s depth chart. Due to his scoring success on the second line, Hodgson still remained a part of the Canuck’s top-six forwards, sliding over to play right wing, after Kesler’s return to lineup

Ranked fifth among league rookies in scoring during the 2011-12 season, Hodgson was named Rookie of the Month in January, almost recording a point per game during that month (10 points in 11 games).

A MOnth prior to being traded to buffalo, hodgson was named rookie of the month for the month of january and scored 10 points in 11 games. He logged major minutes as vancouver's second line center.  Photo courtesy of reuters/Ben Nelms

A MOnth prior to being traded to buffalo, hodgson was named rookie of the month for the month of january and scored 10 points in 11 games. He logged major minutes as vancouver's second line center. 

Photo courtesy of reuters/Ben Nelms

Just one month after his rookie of the month performance, Hodgson was traded to Buffalo along with defenseman Alexander Sulzer in exchange for rookie Zach Kassian and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani. This was a trade that left many Canucks fans scratching their heads. With his rookie success, many fans wanted to see Hodgson play a larger role for the Canucks. But playing as the third center on the depth chart behind Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler led the Canucks management to set up the trade that transpired with Buffalo.

By leaving Vancouver, Hodgson was able to take a much larger role on the Sabres, something that he has been neglected of this season. Looking at the lineups from this season, it’s hard to recall the last time Hodgson played in the Sabres top six forward core. On Tuesday night, Hodgson played left wing on a line centered by Brian Flynn with Drew Stafford on the right wing. He logged a total of 12 minutes in ice time and put 3 shots on net.

One has to ask why. Why is Cody Hodgson playing the left wing on a third line that has only been logging around 10 minutes per game? It’s been asked earlier in the season when the Sabres were on a winning streak, but it should be put on the table again for Ted Nolan to consider. Yes he is having a terrible year, but so is the team. When considering the team’s performance this year, would it be too much of a risk to move Hodgson around and see if his performance is truly being hindered as a result of playing on the third line? Heck, maybe he would even draw some trade talks if he was producing numbers. 

Hodgson has a history and experience at playing center and right wing, not on the left side. During his time in the OHL, an annual OHL coaches poll distinguished Hodgson as the smartest, hardest working, and one of the best at winning faceoffs. There has been no opportunity for Hodgson to showcase the characteristics that led to his early success in the OHL and on the Canucks. In his NHL-career best 2013-14 season with the Sabres, Hodgson was logging the big minutes as the team’s first or second center. As of today, Hodgson is currently playing behind Torrey Mitchell who has just as much professional hockey experience but nowhere near the numbers of Cody Hodgson.

Cody Hodgson is playing on the Sabres third line behind a line centered by torrey Mitchell (17), pictured above. In 40 games this season, mitchell is tied with cody hodgson in the point department with 8 points (3 g, 5 a). Photo courtesy of Rich Lam/Getty Images

Cody Hodgson is playing on the Sabres third line behind a line centered by torrey Mitchell (17), pictured above. In 40 games this season, mitchell is tied with cody hodgson in the point department with 8 points (3 g, 5 a).

Photo courtesy of Rich Lam/Getty Images

With the season undoubtedly going to be worse than last year’s, why not give Hodgson that second line center job over Torrey Mitchell? A line that would feature Matt Moulson on left wing, Cody Hodgson at center, and Brian Gionta on right wing sounds like a line that Hodgson could excel with. Hodgson’s uncharacteristic year is not a result of himself as a player, but a result of the opportunities that Ted Nolan may be giving him. Don’t give up on him yet. As his history may read, the success is there and he could play a pivotal role for this team down the road once the Sabres find some scoring abilities to surround him with.