There is always a place in NHL lineups for players who can be plugged in on any trio. In Montreal, those players have been Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher. When they needed a steadying presence, they could just insert either of those forwards into a line and get a solid effort out of it. With Gallagher assuming a critical role on the Canadiens’ top line, that job can fall on the shoulders of Charles Hudon. In fact, it’s something he already started doing over the course of this past season — playing anywhere from the top line to the fourth with a number of different linemates.
Starting in the pre-season, Hudon was matched up with Tomas Plekanec and Artturi Lehkonen, and throughout the early games the trio rolled over the competition. In their four pre-season games together, their line compiled an astounding 62.7 Corsi-for percentage, while piling up an exceptional amount of scoring (64.1%) and high-danger chances.
However, their incredible possession game was undone by an on-ice shooting percentage of just 4% and a brutal on-ice save percentage of 89.5%. This led to a subpar amount of production on offence and a bit of a misleading defensive rating. They were far better than their goals against showed.
In spite of their poor luck in the pre-season, Claude Julien kept the line together at the start of the year, and much like the pre-season, they rolled over their competition in terms of possession. Their problems with luck also continued, with an 83.33 on-ice save percentage coupled with a 3.45 on-ice shooting percentage for a PDO of 0.868.
In their small sample together, they had a high-danger-chances-for percentage of 90.9, a scoring-chances-for percentage of 71.4, and a CF% of 60.5. As is the case with much of the team, their inability to buy some shooting luck ended up causing the line to be broken up before too long.
Despite having Lehkonen moved off his line, Hudon gained another shot-generation machine in Gallagher, who wound up being Hudon’s second most common linemate behind Plekanec.
When apart from Plekanec, Hudon’s next most common centreman was Phillip Danault, which also gave Hudon another top-level linemate in Max Pacioretty on the opposite wing. When on the ice with both Danault and Pacioretty, Hudon thrived in all forms of scoring chances and possession metrics. In fact, when paired with full-time centres like Plekanec and Danault, the rookie forward was part of arguably some of the best lines the Canadiens iced last year.
Hudon’s time was not limited to just that alongside top-six forwards. At five-on-five, Hudon played with nearly all of the forwards on the Canadiens’ roster by the end of the season.
There’s a clear pattern of who Hudon played with, starting on the third line with Plekanec, then shifting to a large stretch of games with Pacioretty and Byron, and then settling in for a short period with Danault. Following that, he was paired almost entirely with bottom-six centres Logan Shaw and Jacob de la Rose.
While he worked well alongside Plekanec and Danault, the same cannot be said for Byron and Jonathan Drouin. Neither were full-time centres (or centres at all) prior to this year and they struggled in their underlying metrics. Out of all of Hudon’s most common linemates, his pairing with Byron was by far the worst in terms of generating shots and limiting shots against.
This is not entirely Byron’s fault. He was thrust into a role that was occupied by Danault (who was out with a concussion), and while he did his best, it’s clear that his best usage isn’t as a centre in the long term.
With Plekanec back in the fold once more, reuniting him with Hudon and adding in another solid two-way winger like Lehkonen, or Joel Armia, could create a fantastic third line for the Canadiens. Julien could also choose to put Hudon on a more offensively inclined line, perhaps with the duo of Danault and Pacioretty. His numbers with both forwards show that he can handle playing those larger minutes against opposing top lines and defensive pairings.
While he has the talent to be a benefit in the bottom six, it’s clear that Hudon struggled away from established NHL centres this past season. Luckily for Montreal, they re-signed a player that Hudon looked good alongside last year, and while he may not outplay some of his teammates for a top-line role, he can just as easily slide into a role similar to last year.
Even though he dominated in terms of possession last year he couldn’t buy a goal. Having his shooting percentage regress likely means that Hudon will begin to grow even more throughout the lineup.
The smart move may be to reconcile the duo of Plekanec and Hudon, as it gives Julien a wide variety of options in terms of their deployment. They can be defensive or deployed in an offensive role, and that variety will serve them well in the upcoming season.