It’s been eight years since Anton Rodin was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks. So far, he has played in three NHL games. And yet, you can’t shake the feeling that he has yet to be given a real shot at success.
The Canucks re-signed Rodin to a one-year, $700,000 contract on Friday and it feels like the right move for both Rodin and the team. It’s entirely unclear whether the 26-year-old winger is a legitimate NHL player or not, but the cheap contract and desperate need in Vancouver for offence gives Rodin a chance to prove himself.
Rodin was drafted in the second round in 2009 after a standout season in the SuperElit, Sweden’s top under-20 league. Everything progressed well from there, as he played 36 games in the Swedish Elite League the following year and was one of Sweden’s leading scorers at the 2010 World Juniors with 10 points in 6 games.
After one more year in Sweden, where he continued to show good progress, he came over to North America to take a shot at making the NHL.
It didn’t go well.
The Chicago Wolves were the Canucks’ AHL affiliate for just two seasons and they were the only two seasons Rodin played in the AHL. The Wolves seemed largely uninterested in developing the Canucks’ prospects, preferring to give more minutes to their own, proven AHL talent like Darren Haydar and Brett Sterling.
Combined with a general struggle to adapt his game to the smaller confines of North American ice, Rodin never quite found his footing in Chicago. He put up 27 points in 62 games in his rookie year, then 14 points in 49 games the next, and never once seemed likely to get called up to the NHL.
He returned to Sweden after that two-year stint and that seemed to be the end of his chances to play with the Canucks. But then a funny thing happened: he got really, really good.
After two very good seasons for Brynas IF, Rodin truly broke through during the 2015-16 season, racking up 37 points in 33 games before a knee injury ended his season prematurely. He was so good in those 33 games that he was still named the MVP of the SHL.
The Canucks made it clear they wanted to bring him back to North America and there was hope the faster, stronger, and more mature Rodin could play a top-six role. There was just one problem: his knee injury. He rehabbed it over the summer and seemed to be good to go in time for training camp and the preseason, but something was clearly wrong.
This is where things get fuzzy. There were some really weird optics surrounding Anton Rodin and his injury. The Canucks may not have actually mishandled his knee injury, but it sure seemed like they did.
First, the Canucks played Rodin in five preseason games, including games on back-to-back nights. A few other players also played five games, but they weren’t coming off a major knee surgery; Rodin was.
He was excellent in those games, scoring 5 points and showing good chemistry with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi (the RoBoBear Line), but when the season started, he was out of the lineup with a reaggravated knee injury. Later on, he would admit that he wasn’t 100% healthy in the preseason, even as the team assured fans and the media that he was fine.
“It was tough in the beginning of every game, I want to say the first couple of minutes,” Rodin said. “But as I got warm, it got better.”
After the preseason, Rodin didn’t play for the Canucks again until late December, then played two more games in January. But against the Calgary Flames, he suffered another setback, falling on his knee on a seemingly harmless play. The subsequent swelling and inflammation ended his season before it even really began. Sort of.
Rodin dressed for one more game, but sat on the bench for all 60 minutes while Jayson Megna skated on the second line and the powerplay. It was a bizarre situation that called into question Willie Desjardins’ decision-making, the amount of influence management had on lineup decisions, and the handling of injuries.
It took 11 days for the Canucks to announce that Rodin had reaggravated his knee injury, but I’m willing to extend some grace to the team on this one because, well, knees are weird and Rodin’s knees are weirder than normal.
It’s a complicated situation because of the mechanics of Rodin’s knees — he has two bones in his kneecap instead of one — and because of the severity of the initial injury.
It got to the point that it was heartbreaking to hear him talk about the injury: “It’s been so long, I don’t even know where I was before anymore,” he said in January before he was shutdown for the season. “I don’t even know where I am now.”
Rodin deserves a chance to prove he can be the player he was before the injury and the Canucks could use an injection of speed and finesse into the lineup. Re-signing Rodin was the right thing to do.