Many observers assumed Cody Hodgson would bypass the American League altogether.
After all, the thinking went, Hodgson was a highly touted first round pick and would slot in nicely on coach Alain Vigneault's roster with the Vancouver Canucks.
Then the Canucks, who have a deep roster, shipped the 10th overall pick from 2008 to the Manitoba Moose. But it seemed the 20-year-old top prospect would be back in Vancouver in no time.
However, the AHL has stymied many top prospects and Hodgson's fate was no different. The rookie went scoreless over his opening five games and suddenly it seemed Hodgson's stay in Winnipeg would extend deep into the winter. Hodgson, who managed just 13 regular season games last season in an injury-plagued year with Brampton of the Ontario League, looked tentative and was hesitant to take his game into the corners and slots.
But a month later, Hodgson’s goals, points and confidence have arrived. The Markham, Ont., native has found a spot on Manitoba's top line with another top prospect, Sergei Shirokov, and rookie Bill Sweatt.
Coach Claude Noel, who does not dole out praise casually, is pleased with Hodgson six weeks into the season.
"He has been good as of late," Noel said of Hodgson. "I think he is having a good time. He is doing a good job in a lot of areas, but he is getting pucks to the net, making plays and he is getting rewarded for those things."
Since his opening five-game drought, Hodgson has rolled up a team-best eight goals for a Moose club that is finally beginning to find its pace after a slow and uneven beginning to the season. Hodgson owns five goals in his past four games heading into Thursday’s meeting with the Rockford IceHogs at the MTS Centre.
"I think I overall just feel more comfortable with everything," Hodgson said.
Complementing Hodgson's hot run is the fact Manitoba has won four straight games and club chemistry is beginning to develop.
"Personally, it feels great to be back playing - playing well and just contributing to the team,” Hodgson said. “Obviously, winning is the most important thing and to be a part of that feels great."
Lining up alongside Shirokov and Sweatt has suited Hodgson nicely as well.
"We have a lot of chemistry and we're having some fun out there,” he said. “They're great to work with on and off the ice. We really talk. It was some good chemistry off the bat, but I think we've gotten even better."
Meanwhile, Noel will continue to evaluate the development of the crown jewel of Vancouver's prospect crop.
"It looks like he is coming into his stride and things are looking good for him,” Noel said. “It will be interesting to see what takes place with Cody."
THIS & THAT
• Toronto goalie Jussi Rynnas won AHL player of the week honors for his 3-0 record with the Marlies. Rynnas stopped 101 of the 104 shots he faced in that stretch.
• Veteran AHL scorer Denis Hamel, signed by Adirondack earlier this month after failing to land an AHL contract in the summer, has scored in four of his first six games with the Phantoms. Hamel's six goals lead the club.
• The Chicago Wolves, a team with a talent-stuffed roster, sit 26th in the AHL's overall standings and own the AHL's worst penalty kill. Chicago has allowed 3.83 goals per game, second-last in the AHL, and the veteran goaltending tandem of Drew MacIntyre and Peter Mannino have combined for just one win this season. Chicago holds a seven-game losing streak, during which it has been outscored 33-13.
• Binghamton's Corey Locke leads the Senators with 26 points, but that’s nothing new for the 26-year-old. Over the past five seasons, Locke has led his club in scoring four times – Hamilton in 2005-06 and 2007-08, Houston in 2008-09 and last season with Hartford. The one exception was in 2006-07, when he finished second to Duncan Milroy – and then led the Calder Cup-champion Bulldogs in playoff scoring.
• Brett Sutter, part of the four-player Calgary-Carolina deal Wednesday, will report to the Charlotte Checkers.
• Toronto will host Hamilton Sunday afternoon and the contest will be shown across Canada on CBC. The NHL Network will also pick up the feed for its viewers in the United States.
From THN.com American League correspondent Patrick Williams, Around The AHL keeps tabs on the world's second best circuit, details all the news and notes and profiles prospects destined for the next level. It appears every Thursday only on TheHockeyNews.com.