Any person who has followed Charles Hudon’s rise to the NHL knows just how dangerous he can be with the puck on his stick. In the AHL, he tormented goalies with a phenomenal wrist shot, an under-utilized slapshot, and a pair of slick hands to handle the puck around the net with ease. He was a threat to create goals in the offensive zone in his first full NHL season, despite abysmal luck throughout most of the year.
We’re going to dig into three different moments as we examine what makes him such a dangerous player when he has control of the puck. From dazzling breakaways, to one-handed assists, there’s a lot to like in his game.
Overtime assist vs. New Jersey, December 14, 2017
While the goal discussed here wasn’t scored by Hudon, his play was the most exceptional part, leaving lots of space for his veteran centreman to finish the play off.
Alex Galchenyuk drops a pass back for Hudon, and then heads for the bench to change in three-on-three overtime, allowing Tomas Plekanec to join the play in the offensive zone. Hudon takes the puck through the neutral zone, forcing Pavel Zacha back into his own end before the Czech forward engages him on the boards.
Sami Vatanen also engages, leaving Blake Coleman to cover the open space, and he slowly drifts toward the board battle to engage as well, leaving the entire offensive zone wide open.
Then the fatal flaw happens. Coleman aggressively joins in the board battle, and allows Hudon to one-handedly chip a puck to a wide open Tomas Plekanec, who finishes with aplomb.
During all of this, despite being triple-teamed along the boards, Hudon has his head up toward the middle of the ice, where he can easily pick out his teammates if needed. The minute Vatanen engages him, and Coleman drifts toward the boards, Hudon uses his one free hand on his stick to launch a perfect chip-pass to Plekanec, who buries the puck past Cory Schneider for the overtime winner.
To not only hold off multiple defenders, but to also have the confidence to set up the game-winning goal with one hand makes this arguably the top play from Hudon’s rookie year, and just a small part of his game. He’s aware of his space on the ice, and sees plays developing in real time, which allows him the ability to make goals like this happen.
Power-play goal vs. Detroit, December 2, 2017
Now on to goals Hudon scored himself, starting with something reminiscent of his time in Hamilton and St. John’s: a quick-fire, short-side wrist shot from inside the faceoff circle.
In what would become a 10-1 shellacking on December 2, Hudon broke out one of his best assets against Petr Mrazek. During a four-on-three power play, Shea Weber dishes the puck to Galchenyuk, who brings it up the right side of the offensive zone. Hudon is trailing the play, and will begin to make a beeline for the right faceoff circle.
As Galchenyuk peels back toward the point, Weber drifts to the left point, while Hudon takes a place at the top part of the faceoff circle, and Andrew Shaw occupies the net-front area on the left side of the ice.
Galchenyuk and Weber play catch with the puck before the Red Wings provide enough of an opening for #27 to feed the puck to Hudon at the top of the circle. With the defence not pressuring him, Hudon walks into the faceoff circle then promptly turns and rifles a shot past Mrazek to make it 5-0.
There isn’t much space over the goaltender’s shoulder, yet Hudon manages to find it anyway. Jonathan Ericsson fails to provide much of a defensive threat, immediately dropping down to block a pass or low shot that never comes. This was all the space the rookie forward needed to score his fourth goal of the year, and join the scoring bonanza at the Bell Centre.
It’s a vintage goal from Hudon, who made his name in the AHL by being able to quickly snap off this type of shot from all angles, and adds another wrinkle to his skill in the offensive zone.
Five-on-five goal vs. Vegas Golden Knights, February 17, 2018
The final clip we’ll break down is a gorgeous effort from Hudon against the Golden Knights, a fantastic net drive that highlights Hudon’s speed and awareness through two zones.
From the start of the play, Hudon is coming down the left boards, and cutting toward an open area of ice behind Max Pacioretty in the neutral zone, while the Habs’ defence handles the oncoming David Perron forecheck.
Pacioretty ends up with the puck on his stick, and Hudon is left all alone at centre ice. The Canadiens’ captain fires off a pass to Hudon, who begins to transition into the next phase of this play.
With the puck on his stick, and Brad Hunt the only defensive threat close to him, Hudon turns and heads up the right boards with speed, forcing Hunt to scramble. This provides all the opening Hudon needs to finish the play off.
Hunt doesn’t properly assess Hudon’s speed and ends up having to turn and attempt to keep up with him as he breaks toward the net. With the outside edge, Hunt has no chance to catch Hudon, and Colin Miller cannot react in time as Hudon buries the puck behind Marc-Andre Fleury.
He isn’t a burner like Connor McDavid or Paul Byron, but his deceptive speed allows Hudon to exploit small gaps in opposing defences to create chances like this.
Two goals, and one amazing assist, and we have a small glimpse into what makes Hudon such a threat in the offensive zone with the puck on his stick. His acute sense of awareness allows him to pick out soft areas to get into, and from there either put the puck on net or create a chance for one of his teammates. Finding those open areas of ice allows him to utilize his speed as well, turning on the jets to put opposing defenders back on their heels as he pushes into the zone with the puck.
Even if he is just lurking in the high-danger areas, it doesn’t take long for him to get his laser-guided wrist shot off from in close. He was desperately unlucky this past season, and when he rebounds (I don’t believe this is an “if” situation) the Canadiens have another winger capable of 20 goals a season.
He’s got plenty of tools in his kit, and with a bit of luck on his side, we will see highlights like the ones broken down above much more frequently.