Murphy on Hodgson: What happens next?

October 24, 2011, 6:20 AM

It seems the biggest question Canucks fans have after the team traded for David Booth is, “what does this mean for Cody Hodgson?” After making the trade, Canucks president and general manager Mike Gillis said Booth was brought in to play in the top six and that he would fit nicely alongside Ryan Kesler and Christopher Higgins (aka the All-American line or the American Express line). The problem is Cody Hodgson had been playing in the top six for most of this season. And it seemed like the team had been reasonably happy with the way he’d performed – at least until Saturday afternoon when he was benched in favour of some guys head coach Alain Vigneault said ‘were going better’ than Hodgson.

For now you’d have to think the logical place for Hodgson is on the third line, perhaps at centre. AV could have Manny Malhotra take the draws and then move to wing with Jannik Hansen on the other wing. All in all, it’s a pretty decent assignment for the 21-year old centre. That’s not to say that the club will like Hodgson there. AV may not want him in a bottom six role. Look what happened to Marco Sturm and Michael Samuelsson. Both skilled — albeit slower players that couldn’t cut it in the Canucks top six and weren’t the right fit for the bottom six — so Gillis shipped them out.

Is Hodgson fast enough to be a checker? Would his offensive talents be wasted on the third line? Those are questions that will need to be answered in the next little while. I don’t think anyone would argue that Hodgson has been better than Higgins so far, so Higgins deserves the second line assignment for now. If he falters a bit, then Hodgson could move up a line. Where things might get dodgy for the youngster is when Mason Raymond returns. Then what? Raymond has the speed to play with Booth and Kesler. And I bet that AV likes Higgins on the third line more than Hodgson.

Hodgson’s numbers through eight games this season (1G, 1A) are the same as he had for the eight games he played last season. But he’s been playing twice as much this season and in better situations. There’s no arguing he looks more NHL ready than last year though. He’s quicker, bigger and stronger; He looks much more confident and comfortable. I’ve been impressed with his ability to win battles with the puck. That may not be enough to save his NHL job though because another option for Hodgson is to send him back to the minors.

There’s little doubt he’d play big, meaningful minutes with the Wolves, and you could argue that is still better for his development than twelve minutes a night on the third line or no minutes a night in the press box. If he’s sent down that will no doubt send the CoHo fans into frenzy. But remember folks that the kid is still young and still developing. And the Canucks clearly think he’s got some learning to do when it comes to his defensive play. If Higgins continues his strong play, my guess is we will be seeing Hodgson back in the minors at some point. And I’m not sure that would be a bad thing.

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