Every time Charles Hudon steps into a new league, the transition is almost seamless. Back in 2010-2011, he stepped into the QMJHL, and became a consistent contributor immediately, winning rookie of the year.
Two years later, he made his AHL debut, playing nine impressive games. His full-time transition to the AHL in 2014-2015, just like to the QMJHL, was seamless. He finished second on the team in points, and was among the best rookies in the league.
And he has followed up that rookie season with another impressive campaign. He currently sits second in IceCaps scoring with 16 goals and 36 points over 48 games, and consistently makes an impact.
He has emerged as a model of consistency for the IceCaps, just halfway through his second year. With points in 12 of the last 16 games, this consistency is clearly reflected on the scoresheet, but even more so in his game-to-game efforts.
Even when he's not getting points, he contributing in other ways. One aspect that makes Hudon so consistently deadly is his ability to transform defence into offence.
In the above clip, Hudon shows his composure in the defensive zone. He takes off up the ice as the Crunch forward closes in and then works the give-and-go with Michael McCarron. This play causes confusion for the Syracuse defenders in the neutral zone, allowing Hudon to escape his coverage and fire a low, hard shot with McCarron driving the net.
Hudon's playmaking continues to garner praise this season. His saucer pass in particular is ridiculous, with an incredible ability to elevate the puck and drop it perfectly on a teammate's stick. Furthermore, he excels at using the full width of the ice to find open teammates and split apart defences, whether that be off the rush or on the powerplay.
Lately, many of his tremendous passes have not been put into the back of the net, so we'd be seeing even more impressive numbers from him if they were.
His ability to read the opposition, evaluate options, and exploit any open ice allows him to be a scoring threat at any level. It's hockey sense that Hudon uses to answer questions about his skating and smallish stature.
While concerns about Hudon's skating were legitimate, as his skating improves, it doesn't appear to be a concern any longer. He still possesses a somewhat awkward-looking wide stride, but his speed and acceleration have improved considerably since turning professional.
For instance, check out this overtime winner versus Syracuse:
There are still elements that Hudon can improve, but the majority of his tools are well above-average, whether that be shooting, playmaking, defensive play, or skating. He's an excellent thinker of the game, which is what I would argue to the be the most important trait for NHL success.
He is definitely an NHL-ready prospect, and it is only a matter of time before he becomes a full-time NHL player. Hopefully that happens with the Canadiens.
Fucale stealing games for the IceCaps
Earlier in February, Zachary Fucale was pulled after allowing three goals on four shots against the Utica Comets. Ten days later, he was named AHL Player of the Week following three unbelievable performances.
The juxtaposition, from 0.250 SV% and 34.18 GAA versus Utica, to a 0.957 SV% and 1.46 GAA over the following four games, is crazy. Not only was the game versus Utica the worst of his young AHL career, but arguably in the past five years as well. Like he always has after adversity, battled back and made his mark.
Coming into the season, there were legitimate concerns about his ability to play at the AHL level because of his mediocre final QMJHL season. Unsurprisingly, he lacks in game-to-game consistency, but overall, his 0.907 SV% and 3.01 GAA are quite impressive for a rookie goaltender, especially when the IceCaps porous defence is taken into account.
Fucale's down-low has been sturdy all season, and has been absolutely unbeatable these past four games. His controlled lateral movements have led to a tremendous highlight reel:
While his glove hand and blocker continue to be works in progress, his angles have never looked this good. As the season wears on, he needs to add more consistency, but these past four games have been a reminder of how excellent he can be.