Last week, we reviewed the limited opportunities of the Habs’ next generation to break camp with the Canadiens in 2016-17. Mike McCarron and Artturi Lehkonen were deemed most likely to succeed and a passing reference was made to a handful of other prospects, including Charles Hudon. Early this week, the Canadiens made their second round of cuts and Hudon was assigned to St. John’s (predictably, Lehkonen and McCarron are still in camp). However, despite being cut, Hudon should be one of the first forwards called up during the year. He has earned the chance to prove what he can do at the NHL level.
Hudon has been a scorer and playmaker at every level to date. Undersized at 5’10-5’11” and 180-190 lbs., he was the Canadiens’ fifth round pick in 2012 (122nd overall) when he was ranked the 95th North American skater by NHL Central Scouting. Named to the QMJHL’s All-Star Team in 2010-11, Hudon also represented Quebec in the 2011 U17 Tournament and Canada in the 2011 U18 World Championship. His status as a prolific scorer in the Q continued uninterrupted from 2010-14 until he was traded to Baie-Comeau where he helped lead the Drakkar to the QMJHL Finals.
His professional career began with the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs – the Canadiens then-minor league affiliate – in 2014-15 where, as a rookie, he was the Bulldogs’ second leading scorer (19G, 38A for 57P). In 2015-16, Charles followed that performance in St. John’s by again being a premier scorer on the team (28G, 25A for 53P), second only to career minor leaguer Bud Holloway. Hudon also made a cameo appearance with the Canadiens, earning two assists in three games of limited ice time.
As both a scorer and playmaker, Hudon is the type of player that the Habs lack. Despite his size, scouting reports highlight his ability to manoeuvre well in traffic. He shows patience in his scoring opportunities, often changing speeds to create open ice either for himself or teammates. Hudon is a creative player. His time in the minors has also improved his defensive game, making him a more reliable two-way player. Those close to the team also speak highly of his intangibles, such as his work ethic and leadership skills.
Hudon has outperformed many of his teammates at the AHL level. Yet, even during last year’s injury-plagued season, the Habs dynamic duo-hunkered down in the foxhole praying for St. Carey’s return from the infirmary barely granted Charles a cup of coffee in the Show. Meanwhile, McCarron (20 games) – an excellent prospect but someone who clearly needed the entire year in the AHL- and Jacob de la Rose (22 games) – a tradesman with hands of stone – were apparently more prepared for prime time.
The Canadiens are rightfully smitten with McCarron’s size and reasonable offensive skills (and he looks even better this Fall). But de la Rose before Hudon? How does that happen? Suffice to say, the answer to the questions lie in Therrien’s uber-obsession with “playing the right way”, Michel’s defence first, responsible in your own end “system”. Hudon is creative and Therrien is no patron of the arts. But that is probably an unfair or at least an incomplete explanation. One can reasonably characterize Hudon’s skill set as not fitting into a role with the Canadiens at this time. He is a possible top-six forward and there are other candidates for these roles that are higher up on the depth chart.
Nonetheless, Charles Hudon will become an NHL regular someday and somewhere soon. With this as the last year of his entry-level contract, it will be unfortunate if the Canadiens do not give him a reasonable and long-term audition this year, a chance to prove he can contribute in Montreal and be part of their future. McCarron’s size – and the Canadiens lack of same – and Lehkonen’s contract – he goes back to Frolunda if he is cut – give those two the edge out of camp. But Hudon has also more than earned a good hard look at some point this season.