Months later, the controversial trade continues to be discussed.
But Cody Hodgson is still stressing the positive about his time with the Vancouver Canucks.
“I’m really thankful for my stay, what they gave me,” Hodgson said Friday as his current team, the Rochester Americans, visited the Abbotsford Heat.
“They gave me a chance to play in the National Hockey League, and I really appreciate that.”
Canucks general manager Mike Gillis has painted Hodgson, Vancouver’s first-round choice (10th overall) in 2008, as an unhappy player who did not want to play on the West Coast. At times, Hodgson, who was dealt to the Buffalo Sabres just before the trade deadline closed last spring, has indicated otherwise, or chosen not to talk about his controversial departure.
He did not want to revisit reports that he wanted out.
“I try not to look back as much as possible,” said the 22-year-old, who recorded a combined 19 goals and 25 assists with the Canucks and Sabres last season.
“I’m here with the Rochester Americans and Buffalo Sabre organization now. I haven’t really looked back on it, to tell you the truth. I really appreciate my time here, the people. The fans always treated me really well.”
Hodgson, who is on a two-way, entry-level deal that allowed him to be sent to the minors during the NHL lockout, was dealt for winger Zack Kassian and defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnini, who was subsequently released by the Canucks and signed as a free agent with the Carolina Hurricanes. Defenceman Alexander Sulzer also went to the Sabres.
The trade continues to generate debate in Vancouver because the Canucks lack depth at the centre position and Hodgson became a fan favourite while overcoming a serious back injury, sustained in training, to become an NHL regular in 2011-12. Meanwhile, Kassian, described by Gillis as a rarely available, prototypical power forward, has yet to display consistency in a Canucks uniform.
Kassian, a 21-year-old Windsor, Ont., native who was Buffalo’s first-round pick (13th overall) in 2009, has also struggled this season while playing for Vancouver’s top farm team, the Chicago Wolves.
Now, Hodgson is looking forward to a chance to shine with the Sabres over the long term after going through the 2011-12 campaign. Despite the unusual circumstances, he considered the season important to his development.
“It was a great step,” said Hodgson. “I feel at home in the National Hockey League. I’ve made a lot of good friends along the way and, hopefully, [the progress] continues for the rest of my career. [The Sabres] treat me really well. They’re good people here. I appreciate the chance they gave me last year, coming in right away. I really like the organization — from the top down.”
And Rochester coach Ron Rolston likes what he has seen thus far of Hodgson, who bulked up with more muscle mass while training under former NHLer Gary Roberts in the off-season.
Despite missing about two months with a broken bone in his hand, Hodgson was averaging slightly better than a point a game heading into Friday’s contest with Abbotsford.
“He started out a little slow, but that was just because he was out for two months, basically,” said Rolston, adding the centre needed to get his timing and game tempo up to speed.
“But after that, he’s been exceptional for us, just a catalyst for us in all areas — defensively, offensively, creating, power plays, faceoffs. He just does everything well.”
Despite a high public profile, the Toronto native keeps things low-key in the Americans’ dressing room.
“He’s pretty quiet, pretty intense,” said Rolston. “He goes about his business professionally. But, certainly, he’s a good presence with our team. He was out [with his injury] for a couple months, and our record showed.”
Like all players, said Rolston, Hodgson can still improve his defensive game. But he has plenty of offensive skill.
“He’s got really good vision,” said Rolston. “He can make plays in small areas. [He has] a lot of poise with the puck, especially on the power play.
“There’s a lot of poise on entries once he gets in the zone and is set up. He’s got really quick hands, whether it’s to finish or to find guys in small-area plays. He does that exceptionally well.”
Hodgson has stood out while playing regularly with Markus Foligno while several other players have rotated onto the line. If the NHL lockout does end by commissioner Gary Bettman’s Jan. 11 deadline, Rolston expects to lose Hodgson and a few other young players to Sabres.
“If something does happen here, it’s going to change, obviously, the complexion of the league, and some teams will be hit harder than others,” said Rolston. “Really, it’s what the league’s all about though. It’s about giving other guys (the) opportunity to step up.”
True to form, Hodgson, who believes his exchange for Kassian was “a good hockey trade,” remains optimistic that he will get to play in the NHL this season.
“It’s probably an advantage to get going with this [latest round of talks between the NHL and players association],” he said. “Hopefully, the season does start soon.”
Notes: As a result of his trade, Hodgson played in an NHL-record 48 road games last season. He played a total of 83 regular-season contests, one more than every NHL team plays. ... Rolston is the older brother of former NHL star Brian Rolston. ... The Americans had a long journey from upstate New York to Abbotsford on Thursday. The trip reminded Rolston of overseas flights he made with his former U.S. National Team Development Program squads. “It felt like we were going to Russia, maybe,” said Rolston. ... Hodgson is in the final year of a contract that he originally signed with the Canucks. ... Sulzer is playing in his native Germany this season. Gragnani is playing for Carolina’s top farm team, the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers.