When the Victoria Royals traded star centre Kevin Sundher to the Brandon Wheat Kings at the trade deadline, it undoubtedly deflated their talent upfront, but it also paved the way for their up-and-coming forwards to run the offence.
This opportunity has not been taken lightly by 17-year-old Steven Hodges. He has flourished since taking on a bigger offensive role with the Royals, notching four goals and 10 points in 13 games since the trade.
"Kevin was a huge part of this team," says Hodges. "He made an impact in the offensive zone and defensively as well. I feel I had to step up my game and help void his loss. I also have to be a bigger voice in the dressing room. Nobody wanted to see Kevin go, but with it my work load has definitely gotten bigger with the Royals."
Even though the Royals (17-33-2-4) were clearly sellers at the deadline, they still have a great shot at making the playoffs. They currently are tied with the Seattle Thunderbirds for seventh place in the WHL's Western Conference. The Everett Silvertips are hot on the Royals' trail though. The 'Tips are only three points back and have two games in hand.
"The playoffs are definitely our goal," says Hodges. "We can definitely reach that goal by playing a full 60 minutes and coming to the rink every night looking to get the win. A lot of guys have been stepping up. We are an underrated team."
With opportunity also comes pressure. Hodges will be heavily counted on for offensive production down the stretch for the Royals.
"I definitely know there is more pressure on me now," says Hodges, who has17 goals and 36 points in 54 games. "I'm happy to have it though. I want to be a player looked upon for the big goal."
Hodges has stood out as one of the league's top draft eligible talents upfront. The 5-foot-11, 167-pound centre was ranked 55th among North American skaters in NHL's Central Scouting Service's mid-term rankings. That was 15th among skaters in the WHL.
"It's nice to be noticed and talked about," says Hodges. "They [Central Scouting] don't draft the players though, so I need to work hard to impress the scouts that do."
A year ago very few would have guessed Hodges would be ranked as high. He played sparingly for the then-Chilliwack Bruins and only scored 11 points throughout 58 games last year. Nevertheless, the Delta, B.C., native has shown vast improvements in his game this season. The major improvement seems to be in his confidence. Hodges, who once rushed plays, has been more patient and poised with the puck.
"Hodges' maturity this year from last year has been impressive," says Andy Neal, host of WHL Central on Shaw Television. "He has been a stronger player physically on the puck and faster too. He has used his shiftiness to make players miss in tight situations. His confidence improving can be credited too. He has worked very hard to get where he is at. He is living up to the great offensive skills that he possesses."
Read More »from Draft tracker: 5 questions with Steven Hodges, Victoria Royals