This off-season, with the expansion draft looming, the Montreal Canadiens re-signed Charles Hudon to a two-year deal with the hopes he wouldn’t be selected by the Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas opted for Alexei Emelin, leaving the Habs with their AHL star, and the lineup was better for it.
Over the course of his three years in the AHL for Hamilton and St. John’s, Hudon was among the elite talents in the league, while often being the driving force on every team he was a part of. Fans and analysts wanted him to get a longer look than the cups of coffee he had up to that point.
Both Marc Bergevin and Claude Julien specifically mentioned Hudon as a player who they had high aspirations for heading into this season. As it stands, up to this point he’s hitting all those notes, regardless of whichever line Hudon is playing on. He’s been a top-six stalwart to even centering the fourth line for an short period. In short he’s been a Swiss Army Knife for Claude Julien this season.
Hudon started the preseason and regular season on a line with Tomas Plekanec, and Artturi Lehkonen, and the “Hype Line” as it was known was firing on all cylinders. Together they often finished as the top possession line, but what hurt them the most, was the inability to find a goal on their stick, something that was prevalent in the entire Habs roster. When paired with Lehkonen at 5v5, the duo combined for a ridiculous 61.8% Corsi For (shot attempts), and likely would have stayed together if they could have any luck go their way.
From there he nestled in alongside Plekanec, and Brendan Gallagher, and in spite of all the line juggling around Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Drouin that line stuck together until very recently. Alongside Plekanec and Gallagher the emerging trend was that every line Hudon moved to turned into a possession monster almost immediately. It was on this line that Hudon notched his first NHL goal as well. In what ended up being an 8-3 rout of the Ottawa Senators, Hudon got the puck, undressed Erik Karlsson then ripped one past Craig Anderson for his first goal in a Canadiens uniform.
After bouncing between lines at the end of December, Hudon was slotted in with Phillip Danault and Max Pacioretty, and for the struggling Canadiens captain it’s been just the shot in the arm that he needed. In their limited sample Danault (64.77%) and Pacioretty (69.19%) are getting sizable boosts in their possession numbers with their new linemate, continuing that trend of lines featuring the rookie immediately becoming better.
He only has four goals on the year, but looking at his style of play and how many shots he’s thrown at opposing goalies, the goals are going to happen at some point. He’s doing too many right things for them to not. Ranking fourth on the team in shots (100 in 39 games), he’s trailing only the offensive leaders on the team in Pacioretty, Gallagher, and Alex Galchenyuk which is good company to be around.
He’s a shot generating machine, and does well to go to the right areas for his scoring chances. He’s a smaller player, but has never minded getting into the dirty areas close to the net to create chances. Even if he isn’t the one finishing them off, his playmaking ability lets his linemates reap the rewards of his hard work.
On perhaps the best example of this, Hudon draws in a pair of defenders, and even a third one just enough that he’s able to chip a pass to Tomas Plekanec for the game winning goal. It’s not hard to see why Claude Julien has no issues with moving him from line to line, his playing style meshes extremely well with almost anyone on the team.
Not only can he help drive the offence at one end of the ice, when Hudon is in the defensive zone the number of dangerous shots against his goalies drops fairly significantly.
Chances against Hudon’s lines are almost non-existent in the Canadiens zone, with the slot and home plate areas seeing little to no action, while any hot spots are isolated to the point or low danger areas on the wall. He’s not a Selke candidate, but his ability to play at both ends of the ice is absolutely vital to the Canadiens this year.
The news continues to get better, like many Canadiens players this season, luck has been a cruel thing for them. With a brutal start, and offence failing to fully click into gear, many players are under-performing where they should be thriving. Hudon is one of those players, great possession numbers, but the point totals aren’t fully there yet for him, in spite of his great overall play. His current PDO sits at 96.69, with 100 being considered normal, Hudon is clearly primed to start seeing some puck luck go his way in the second half of this season, especially given that he leads the entire Canadiens team in CF% at 54.86%.
Not only that but in terms of xGF/60 (Expected Goals For per 60), Hudon ranks top-five on the Canadiens with a 2.88 xGF/60, meaning when he’s on the ice, he and his teammates are taking higher quality shots on opposing goalies. On the flip side of this, he’s also top five in expected goals against per 60 with an xGA/60 of 1.96, meaning opposing teams are getting less quality chances with him on the ice.
All of this boils down to the fact that after the bye week is over, Hudon and the Canadiens will be back on the ice, and the rookie forward is a prime candidate to make some major noise in the second part of the season. He’s doing all the little things right, is now playing on a line with Max Pacioretty who has started to stir from his long slump, and the Canadiens as a whole seem to be tightening their play up. While he likely won’t catch Brock Boeser or Clayton Keller in a rookie points race, Hudon will stay factor just as heavily into his teams success if the first part of the season is any indication.
Similar to the run Artturi Lehkonen had at the end of last season, Hudon should only get better as the year goes on.
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Statistics courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com, HockeyViz, and Corsica.hockey