In 2009, Cody Hodgson got star billing in The Hockey News’ annual prospects publication, Future Watch.  According to the 22 scouts consulted by THN, Hodgson was the second-best prospect in the game, and the magazine gushed about his high level of talent and responsible approach to the game:

Few prospects have seen their stock rise more dramatically this season than Hodgson, who has drawn comparisons to some of the game’s great two-way centers.

Hodgson has a grasp of two-way hockey that often takes players years in the NHL to figure out.  His on-ice habits are very good and he has a conscientious approach to the game that belies his young age.

Hodgson is the kind of player who can play on the first power play and the first penalty-killing units, as well as the top line.

Hodgson’s junior coach, Stan Butler, hadn’t expected the Canucks to return him to junior in 2008-09, and certainly didn’t expect Hodgson to still be playing in the OHL in 2009-10.  But an injury intervened in training camp (more on that here) and Hodgson played only 13 games during the regular season, and 11 more in a disappointing playoff run.  For 14 months, Hodgson dealt with the complications of that back injury, and it stalled his first pre-season appearance with the Canucks this past fall.

Now, the 10th overall pick in 2008 finds himself 24 games into his professional career, and he’s spent all of them in the AHL.  His stats line there isn’t especially impressive (24GP – 10G – 6A – 16PTS, minus-2), and right now he’s out of the line-up after taking a stick to the face.  Is it time to lower expectations for the forward?

Perhaps.  It’s impossible to know the full magnitude of the impact that injury will have on Hodgson’s career, but certainly it has been significant.  The lost development time alone is a huge factor.  But there’s some evidence that Hodgson’s coming around at the AHL level.  Consider the way his offence has improved since the season’s opening month:

  • October: 9GP – 2G – 1A – 3PTS, minus-5
  • Since October: 15GP – 8G – 5A – 14PTS, plus-7

That’s a dramatic shift, and it doesn’t take much of a leap to assume that it took Hodgson some significant time to not only adapt to the professional game, but also work his way back after such a lengthy layoff.  Thanks to the injury, Hodgson’s conditioning was a serious issue, as the prospect himself admitted:

Hodgson has been symptom-free since he came to Vancouver in early September, but hasn’t played because he’s been slowly building up strength in his lower back and getting his conditioning to game speed.

He was cleared for full contact, and that means cleared to play, earlier in the week. His first full practice was Wednesday, his toughest was Friday.

"The main thing was just the physical aspect of it," Hodgson said… "The whole body conditioning [was an issue].”

Now, Hodgson’s scoring at just under a point-per-game pace.  His plus/minus has done a 180-degree turnaround, and he’s looking like a dominant player in the AHL at even-strength (of his 16 points, just four have come on the power play).

I have my doubts that Hodgson will be a big scorer at the NHL level – certainly he won’t manage it unless he finds a way to put up power play numbers – but the signs are there that his high level of two-way ability is starting to manifest itself in professional games.  I’d be shocked if he doesn’t graduate to NHL hockey at some point this season, to the great benefit of the Canucks,