For Cody Hodgson, there was never any doubt he’d hit the ice on time.
The 23-year-old center was a restricted free agent without a contract when the Buffalo Sabres opened training camp Wednesday morning. He went through the normal routine for the first day of camp, which including off-ice testing and physicals.
By Wednesday evening, he had signed his new six-year contract extension and was able to lace up his skates for the team’s first on-ice workouts Thursday morning at First Niagara Center.
“I knew we were going to get it done. It was just a matter of when,” Hodgson said after practice. “I’m really thankful for the opportunity.”
Hodgson was selected 10th overall by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2008 NHL Draft and is a member of the same draft class as Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis. The Sabres acquired Hodgson and defenseman Alexander Sulzer at the 2012 NHL Trade Deadline for forward Zack Kassian and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani.
He recorded three goals and five assists in 20 games with the Sabres that season. In the 48-game, lockout-shortened season last year, Hodgson finished second on the team in scoring with 34 points (15+19).
Sabres coach Ron Rolston said he thought it was important that Hodgson didn’t miss any of the training camp sessions and noted that Hodgson is still a young player who is learning and developing.
“He’s one of those players that in the future, he’s going to be a leader for us. He’s an important player and we wanted him from the start,” Rolston said. “And I think he wanted to be here. He was here and was chomping at the bit to get things done so he could play today so it says a lot about him.”
Sabres general manager Darcy Regier has expressed concerns in the past when it comes to giving young players long-term, big-money deals. Regarding Hodgson’s situation, however, Regier said that Hodgson’s offseason and off-ice work habits made this new contract easier to agree to.
“You need a level of maturity and you need a level of understanding [about] who you are, what you do and the commitment that comes with that. So the decision for us was, does Cody have that and we believe he does,” Regier said.
Hodgson was on the ice early in the morning as part of the first practice group. He skated on a line with Thomas Vanek and Marcus Foligno. Hodgson and Vanek were linemates for much of last season and developed some strong chemistry.
Regier had talked to Vanek about Hodgson earlier in the week and relayed that the two do enjoy playing together.
“I think we have a good thing going,” Vanek said on Wednesday. “Over the last two weeks, while we were both here, we worked hard again and [were] talking a lot.”
Hodgson told the media that there were two aspects of his game that he has focused on improving over the summer. The first was his power and explosiveness when it comes to skating and his shot. The other was getting tougher to play against defensively. Last season, Rolston started to lean on Hodgson more and more in their own zone.
He also said that having a full training camp with Rolston and the new coaching staff will be very beneficial when it comes to learning systems and understanding the type of style the team will play.
“He wants to be a number one guy from the standpoint of he wants to be counted on,” Regier said. “He wants to be recognized in a leadership position. He wants the opportunity to be in positions where you can make a difference.”
Hodgson believes there will be some added pressure when it comes to filling the role he desires and developing into the elite player he wants to become.
“I think obviously there’s pressure just playing professional sports,” he said. “And when they have that much faith in you, you obviously want to try even harder to make sure you reward them for that opportunity.”
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