The Vancouver Canucks will give Swedish-born forward Anton Rodin every opportunity to crack their NHL lineup next season. The one-year, one-way contract the club signed Rodin to on Tuesday is a testament to that.
Rodin, 25, was a second-round pick of the Canucks way back in 2009. In 2011, on the heels of two promising seasons in the Swedish Hockey League, Rodin joined the organization and spent two unsuccessful and injury-plagued seasons with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.
His skill level was evident, but for whatever reason, the potent offensive game he repeatedly flashed in Sweden didn’t translate on North American ice. When it became apparent that Rodin would return to Brynas following a dismal 2012-13 campaign, there was little to indicate that he had much of an NHL future.
Still, the previous Canucks management regime extended Rodin a qualifying offer, maintaining his rights. It was standard practice for the Canucks at the time — the club similarly qualified winger Bill Sweatt that summer — a way of hedging their bets in case Rodin blossomed in his mid-20s.
It’s a move that looks prescient now.
Over the past couple of seasons Rodin found a new level in the SHL and was particularly dominant this season. Wearing a captain’s “C” on his sweater, Rodin was leading the league in scoring by a wide margin before sustaining a gruesome knee ligament tear during a mid-January practice.
That injury sidelined Rodin for the balance of Brynas’ season, but it wasn’t enough to stop him from winning the Guldhjälmen – quite literally “the gold helmet” – which is an MVP award voted on by SHL players, similar to the NHL’s Ted Lindsay Award.
The injury did, however, interfere with the Canucks’ ability to watch Rodin play live – something they’d hoped to do all season. Though Canucks general manager Jim Benning wasn’t able to evaluate Rodin in person, he’s still confident that he has a good handle on what sort of player the Canucks are getting.
"We have a bunch of tapes that he sent us and I've watched them and I have a pretty good idea what type of player he is,” Benning told Sportsnet earlier this month. “He's a bit like Sven Baertschi, he can turn on a dime. He's got a better release and can rip the puck. He's a skilled guy.”
The Canucks are one of the NHL’s most anemic offensive teams, so they’ll take all of the skill and offensive dynamism they can find.
It’s certainly reasonable to bet that Rodin could be a useful contributor in Vancouver.
Though Rodin’s is the path less travelled, it isn’t without precedent. Other European-based professional players such as Jori Lehtera have found success on their second crack at North American professional hockey. And for what it’s worth Rodin scored at a better rate for Brynas this past season than Carl Soderberg did in his final SHL season and at a younger age.
Of course, for every European signing like Artemi Panarin who finds instant success in the NHL, you’ll find several Roman Cervenkas or Petri Kontiolas who promptly washout.
Even if Rodin doesn’t hit, bringing him over and giving him a look is a no-lose proposition for the Canucks. Rodin represents the hockey equivalent of found money.
Benning believes that Rodin’s extended SHL tenure will prove beneficial, that he’s more ready now to contribute at the NHL level then he was a few years ago.
“He wants to come back and prove he can play in the NHL,” Benning said of Rodin a couple of weeks ago. “He's had two good years in the Swedish Elite League... He's gotten stronger since he's gone back and I think he thinks now, and we think, that now would be a good time to bring him over since he's ready to play in the NHL."
Rodin’s readiness will be tested in training camp. The Swedish-born winger hasn’t played a game since January and his contract with the Canucks begins next season.
He’ll have to be ready right off the hop too, because it’s hard to imagine that he’d be willing to head to the American League. Like newly signed Canucks defenceman Nikita Tryamkin, Rodin’s NHL-or-bust situation could add a level of intrigue and urgency to Canucks camp next fall.
Though getting the Swedish scoring winger signed and under contract is a low-risk gamble with a good level of upside for the Canucks, don’t expect Rodin’s unconventional path to alter the way Vancouver’s management team handles qualifying offers.
In contrast with the previous regime, Benning has been far less protective of fringe restricted players, non-tendering assets such as Jordan Schroeder, Zac Dalpe, Ryan Stanton and Peter Andersson and allowing them to become unrestricted.
"We made the decision on those guys that we didn't think they were core prospects, which were going to turn into core players for us…” Benning explained. “We didn't believe that spending the time working on them with development that they'd grow into the type of players we could win with, so we made the decision not to qualify them and give them an opportunity to go play on other teams in the NHL."