Hockey’s Future Prospect of the Year 2008-09

By Ian Bross

All season long, Hockey’s Future has highlighted the top performances, once monthly, of some of the NHL’s up and coming prospects.

Selections had gone to those prospects not yet established as full-time NHL players. Eligible players spanned the various North American minor pro leagues, and major junior leagues, as well as professional leagues in Europe.

And now, based on the same criteria, Hockey’s Future names its first ever selection for prospect of the year, Cody Hodgson.

Hodgson, a 2008 first-round draft choice of the Vancouver Canucks, received the title of Prospect of the Month in November, and earned an honorable mention in both December and March. No other prospect’s name was as oft-included as Hodgson’s for his efforts in the 2008-09 season.

The captain of the OHL’s Brampton Battalion earned and deserved a great deal of respect for his service this season. Hodgson answered the call of duty with an exceptional start, yet truly exploded at the end of the calendar year. As mentioned he was a force in November and December, with 16 goals and 18 assists in 16 games heading into the World Junior Championships. He recorded three hat tricks over that span.

=”Arial”>With such momentum in his favor, Hodgson not surprisingly also shined on the world stage. He put together an excellent performance for the WJC hosts, Team Canada. He bested his teammate, 2009 draft-eligible John Tavares, for most points in the event. Hodgson tallied five goals and 11 assists, helping lead Canada to their fifth consecutive gold medal.

It wasn’t Hodgson’s first international competition of 2008-09. He joined a group of other OHL stars in the ADT Canada/Russia Super Series. Hodgson’s highly touted intangibles came in handy as an assistant captain. Skating on the team’s top line, he helped contribute to the sweep of the two-game set against the Russian selects with three goals and an assist in the opening contest.

Hodgson returned to cap off his third campaign for the Battalion, and put the finishing touches on a breakout season. With 43 goals and 49 assists, he finished fourth in league scoring. Hodgson’s game is far and away more refined than his counterparts in junior. Beyond the scoring, the character, leadership and completeness as a hockey player which he demonstrated was unequalled. It was because of this that he was named this year’s recipient of Red Tilson Trophy, as the OHL’s most outstanding player.

Hodgson’s final endeavor will be to help Brampton earn the J. Ross Robertson Cup. The team dropped the first two games of the championship series to the Windsor Spitfires. They now trail in the series 2-1, however, after a victory on the road in game three in which Hodgson had a goal and an assist.

Jon Blum

Blum was twice named as an honorable mention in past editions of the prospect of the month, in both October and December. For the Nashville prospect, and captain of the Vancouver Giants, it was indicative of his all-around strong start to the year. Also a sign of the team’s early success was their speedy ascent to the top of the WHL standings, with Blum anchoring the blueline. At the time, Blum was named WHL player of the month of September/October. The Giants ran away with the Western Conference, finishing with an 18-point hold on first place.

Blum represented the USA in the WJC, and demonstrated a tremendous amount of reliability, logging lots of minutes in all situations. Unshakable defensively, and creative in possession of the puck, he amassed 16 goals and 50 assists in 51 games during the season. He would miss time towards the end of the year with an injury, but still finished third in total points among defenders league-wide. Even more impressive, to go with his over a point-per-game scoring pace, Blum registered a +53 rating. In only five games all season was he charged with a minus rating.

Blum has now joined the AHL Milwaukee Admirals in the playoffs.

Cory Schneider

Schneider earned an honorable mention in February. But the Vancouver Canucks prospect was a star in goal all year round in the AHL. Seeing Schneider’s name pop up more often certainly wouldn’t have been unwarranted.

A case could be made for Schneider being near NHL readiness. However, because of Roberto Luongo’s steadfast occupation of the Canucks goal crease, only in emergency situations has Schneider received an opportunity to prove himself. Suddenly in the spotlight when Luongo was temporarily lost to injury, Schneider wasn’t spectacular, but showed considerable poise.

Overall, the 23-year-old has handled his situation gracefully, and has given his all to the Manitoba Moose. With Schneider between the pipes, the Moose found great success in 2008-09. The team won more games than any other during the regular season. Schneider recorded a 28-10-1 record in 40 games played. He managed a league-best 1.81 goals-against average, and .928 save percentage. He registered five shutouts.

Schneider has been even more dominant in the Calder Cup playoffs. In the second-round series against a capable Grand Rapids offense, he has allowed just one goal in each of the first three games. In all three instances the Moose won, and are now a win away from advancing to the Conference Finals where they will meet either Houston or Milwaukee.

Jamie Benn

Benn earned an honorable mention in March. But like Schneider, could conceivably have been an inclusion in past months due to his consistently superb play. A fifth-round draft pick of the Dallas Stars, Benn has been one of the premiere players in the WHL this year.

He had a strong showing in the WJC for Canada with four goals and two assists. Benn has been a leader for the Kelowna Rockets during the season. He plays an effective physical game, and is an effective scorer as well. Though he never matched his productivity in November when he had 14 goals and 25 points in 13 games, Benn finished with a commendable total of 46 goals and 82 points in 56 games. Both are career highs.

In the playoffs thus far, Benn has been a clutch scorer. After easily dispatching Kamloops in four games in the opening round, Benn pushed the Rockets past first and second seeds Vancouver and Tri-City in the next two rounds. And now, they are competing in the Ed Chynoweth Cup finals. He has 13 goals and 18 assists through 18 post-season games. The Rockets have a 3-0 series lead, and are one game away from the championship title.

Colin Wilson

Wilson, a 2008 Nashville draft choice, was perhaps the top collegiate player in the NCAA this season. As a sophomore, he played a significant role for Boston University, leading the charge to a fruitful 2008-09 season. Wilson’s efforts carried the Terriers to a top spot in the NCAA rankings at season’s end. He helped the Terriers to capture the Hockey East division title, and tournament championship as well.

Wilson was also an integral part of the team’s run to a national championship. He had five points in the five games of the tournament, including the goal to send the Terriers to the championship game. BU went on to win in miraculous fashion. Wilson led BU in scoring, and finished second in the nation in overall scoring with 17 goals and 38 assists for 55 points.

For his efforts, Wilson was honored by being named to the All-American First Team East. He was also chosen as a Hobey Hat Trick finalist, eventually bested by his own teammate Matt Gilroy.