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Hodgson ready to fit in and contribute

One of the first things Cody Hodgson has to do is catch up on his correspondence. Folks from Buffalo to California and Toronto to Vancouver have been blowing up his phone since Monday, and the guy is way behind.

"There's still unanswered texts and calls," Hodgson said Wednesday, his first full day surrounded by new Sabres teammates. "The phone's been ringing off the hook, well-wishers, people trying to figure out what's going on. It's been a whirlwind, but I'm excited and ready to go. I'll get back to them eventually."

Hodgson's main initiative while whittling away at the text messages is to fit in with his new club. The 22-year-old center, acquired Monday in a shocking four-player deal that featured fellow top prospect Zack Kassian going from Buffalo to Vancouver, got his first chance to mesh Wednesday night when the Sabres visited Anaheim.

"Hopefully, I can fit in and do well," Hodgson said in Honda Center. "I'm interested in helping the team get in the playoff picture."

The postseason is the short-term goal for Hodgson and the Sabres. The long-term plan is much bigger -- and maybe just as daunting.

"We need somebody that can grow and be a No. 1 centerman," coach Lindy Ruff said. "We really feel he can be that guy."

The Sabres have been lacking playmakers in the middle since 2007, when they lost the potent combination of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury. Derek Roy is a steady No. 2 center for most teams, but Buffalo needs an elite middle man who can make a difference.

"A young player wants an elevated role, and that obviously is what we're going to try and get him," Ruff said.

Hodgson's pedigree suggests he can grow into an All-Star. He was a top-10 prospect heading into the 2008 draft, and the Canucks selected him 10th. He recorded 114 goals and 243 points in 197 games in juniors, though his final season was limited to just 13 outings because of a back injury. He had 17 goals and 30 points in 52 games in the AHL last year.

This season, he excelled on the Canucks' third line and pushed himself into the Rookie of the Year discussion. He had 16 goals and 33 points in 63 games with the Canucks, numbers accumulated while averaging just 12:43 of ice time.

He's starting on the Sabres' second line with left wing Tyler Ennis and right wing Drew Stafford, so the minutes will increase. Buffalo hopes the production will, too.

"I'm excited to be here, and hopefully it's a good fit," Hodgson said. "I think we can complement each other. I know a few guys already, and I'm looking to have a good time. It's fun.

"Talking with the coaches, it seems pretty similar [to Vancouver's style of play]."

Once the Sabres complete their four-game Western swing next week, Hodgson will get a chance to catch up with his family. He grew up in Markham, Ont., just northwest of Toronto, and his parents still live there. He has two sisters plus a brother who recently graduated from Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.

"They're all really excited and definitely will be there for that first game," he said.

Hodgson, listed at 6-foot and 185 pounds, is definitely not as wiry as numbers might suggest. The first thing Ruff noticed was the thickness of the center's neck and body. A longtime observer in Vancouver said Hodgson can stick up for himself, though he's not the type to go out of his way to finish a check. He can improve his faceoff work, with a winning percentage of 42.8.

Hodgson, who has one year left on an entry-level deal that has a $1.67 million cap hit, will get every opportunity to succeed. Ruff moved Ennis, who was playing well at center, back to left wing in order to keep him and Hodgson on the top two lines. It meant a bit of a demotion for Ville Leino, who prefers the wing but started Wednesday's game centering Nathan Gerbe and Patrick Kaleta.

"It's more about trying to create two lines that can give us more of a solid offensive look," Ruff said. "If we spread it out, we end up going to a three- or four-line look. I think we'd like to take a look at the top two lines getting the bulk of the ice time first.

"It should bode well having a centerman that you should have for a long time."

email: jvogl@buffnews.com