The journey to the NHL has been anything but easy for Philadelphia Flyers forward Hayden Hodgson. Hodgson played five years and 294 games in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), where he recorded 157 points (87 goals and 70 assists) with the Erie Otters, Sarnia Sting, and Saginaw Spirit. For two of those seasons, he was teammates with future superstar Connor McDavid during the beginning of his career in Erie, which was the opportunity of a lifetime.
While he put up decent numbers during his career, he did not get as many looks as he was hoping for throughout his time in the OHL. He was always a decent and hardworking player, but that just was not enough for some of the NHL scouts.
Following a lengthy career in the OHL, he was not drafted by an NHL franchise despite attending prospects camp with the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings. Regardless of being drafted, he knew he was going to make it to the NHL one day, no matter how big of a challenge or how long it was going to take (from ‘’Determination of Hodgson inspiring as Leamington native earns NHL deal with Flyers,’ Windsor Star, 3/23/2022).
“I remember playing in the OHL and not getting drafted,” the 26-year-old Hodgson said. “I made it my goal to get there the hard way.”
The hard way is the light way of describing his journey to the NHL. Against all odds, he eventually made all his dreams come true, it just took a little longer than he expected.
All for the Love of the Game
Hodgson turned pro in 2017-18 following his final season in the OHL. He signed an American Hockey League (AHL) contract with the Cleveland Monsters, where he played a total of 41 games and recorded six points (three goals and three assists). He was eventually sent to the ECHL where he spent the next five seasons playing for six different teams, including a stop in Slovakia before returning to North America.
Prior to the start of the 2021-22 season, Hodgson did not know if he was even going to be playing at the professional level. He was invited to participate in the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ training camp on a tryout, which resulted in him signing an AHL contract before the start of the season.
“It’s a love of the game,” Hodgson said. “It’s been a grind, but the love of the game keeps you motivated. You take the opportunity and get a shot and to have an organization and a coach that believes in you. Ian Laperriere has given me nothing, but a shot.
“I’m happy for that and grateful to get that chance. In junior, I was taught to play a certain way and structure. Once you get to (the pro) level, it’s about being detailed and structured and playing three zones, and being able to process the game. Every year’s more competitive and faster and I think my game’s come a hell of a long way from junior and my first year of pro.”
The Phantoms took a chance on a young player that bounced around the ECHL a bit before finally landing in the right spot. Things could not have worked out any better for him as it seems like he is finally able to prove himself and turn some heads.
Lehigh Valley Phantoms Standout
Since joining the Phantoms, Hodgson has exceeded all expectations set coming into the season. He is currently tied with Phantoms captain Cal O’Reilly for the team lead in goals after scoring 18 goals in 44 games played. His production totally took the Phantoms by surprise as he was expected to put up decent numbers, but nothing out of the ordinary for a guy in the AHL.
“He’s been our biggest surprise,” Phantoms’ head coach Ian Laperriere said. “He came out of nowhere. He came to our training camp and I didn’t know about him. Nobody knew about him. I was like, ‘Who is this kid?’ and he came on the ice and I saw what he could do.”
For his efforts with the Phantoms, Hodgson earned the opportunity to sign an NHL contract with the Flyers for the remainder of the season. The organization was confident in his play-making abilities and development over the course of the season, so they jumped on signing him before another team had the chance.
“Things are good,” Hodgson said. “I had a wild day, but I’m not in the lineup. I haven’t been recalled. I just signed with them for the rest of the year and I’m on an NHL (two-way) contract. It just means there’s an option to be recalled.”
The opportunity arose after the Flyers made a couple of moves at the deadline, including trading forward Derick Brassard. Little did he know, less than 24 hours after signing an NHL contract, he would be playing in the biggest game of his life up until this point.
NHL Debut of a Lifetime
March 23 rolled around with the plan of Hodgson traveling to Hershey, PA, with the Phantoms for a matchup with the Hershey Bears, but things changed pretty quickly. He received a phone call from Laperriere to tell him he had been recalled by the Flyers and would be making his NHL debut with the Flyers on March 24 in St. Louis (from ‘‘With trade deadline passed, Flyers experimenting with young players in ‘different opportunities’’ The Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/24/2022).
“It’s been a crazy year,” Hodgson said. “It’s just been step after step. I’m very fortunate to be here. It’s a dream come true. I think I’ve always been the player that I am right now and obviously my game’s progressed a little bit,” Hodgson said. “But just being able to get that opportunity at the start of the year and have an organization and a coach that has trust and faith in me, that’s huge for a player.”
Once Wednesday evening against the St. Louis Blues came, the rest of the story was history. All the hard work and dedication over the last five years finally paid off. In his NHL debut with the Flyers, Hodgson wasted no time getting his first point. He assisted Travis Konecny’s opening goal of the game. He later added a goal of his own to put the Flyers up 4-2 halfway through the third. As a result of his play, he earned the second star of the game and a night of endless memories.
While Hodgson might not be a player that scores 40 goals a season in the NHL, he certainly will give it his all each and every single night, which is exactly what the Flyers need the rest of this season. The team is giving him the shot of a lifetime, and he is taking full advantage of it. Whether he finishes the season with the Flyers or gets sent back to the Phantoms is yet to be determined, but regardless, he is going to soak in every opportunity he can.