The Montreal Canadiens are in a strange position: their current health and depth in the forward group is making it hard to find ice time for everyone on the roster. Currently the odd man out is usually Charles Hudon, who just went through another stretch as a healthy scratch under Claude Julien before drawing back in last night. His agent this past week told The Athletic that Hudon wants to just play hockey in the NHL, whether it was in Montreal or elsewhere.
This creates a bit of a conundrum: what exactly can the Canadiens do now to fix this situation?
Most simply, they can play him. For whatever reason, Julien has rarely budged from his fourth line of Kenny Agostino, Michael Chaput, and Nicolas Deslauriers, with Matthew Peca taking some ice time as well. As it stands, one or both of Chaput and Agostino should be heading to the AHL’s Laval Rocket when Andrew Shaw is healthy again, as they were both recalls during an early-season injury bug that hit the team.
When Hudon has played recently, he’s had solid, albeit scoreless, games on the fourth line, but that has followed the same trend as the other players on his line. The main difference is that he ends up a healthy scratch for multiple games, while others are given seemingly unlimited leash.
Julien is more than familiar with Hudon. He saw the young forward put together a solid rookie season last year on a disastrous Canadiens team, so his sudden reluctance to play him is nothing short of baffling. He isn’t going to magically turn the team into a juggernaut, but adding a player with offensive skill to the fourth line can’t really hurt the team.
If Montreal can’t create the space for him, or Hudon himself doesn’t grab it for himself, the only other options are to waive him or trade him. Waiving him is a risky idea as Montreal will likely lose him like they did Nikita Scherbak and Jacob de la Rose. He’s a player that will appeals to teams needing some help on their wings, and losing him for nothing would be poor asset management.
Trading him might be the most mutually beneficial option for both sides. Chief among the potential trading partners are the Carolina Hurricanes, who despite all of their shot generation lack quality on their wings. Adding Hudon could help create some of that depth scoring they’re lacking.
As for a return, the Hurricanes have been in the news recently mentioning that both Micheal Ferland and Dougie Hamilton are available, but Hudon isn’t nearly enough to be a focal point in either move, especially for players who play the same positions that Montreal doesn’t really need any help with. The move there may just result in a draft pick coming back to Montreal, which isn’t the end of the world given the Habs’ propensity recently for stockpiling them.
The Winnipeg Jets just lost Nikolaj Ehlers for a decent chunk of time as well due to an upper-body injury, Hudon could be inserted into their lineup as a cheap stopgap until the Dane is healthy. Looking at the Jets’ roster, one name should stick out as an option for the Canadiens, and that is Sami Niku, who appears unable to gain any trust from head coach Paul Maurice. Niku had no issues in his short time on the Jets’ top pair next to Jacob Trouba, yet has become a healthy scratch in recent games again.
While it’s unlikely that just Hudon alone would get the deal done, taking advantage of a misjudged asset on another team is right up Marc Bergevin’s alley. Adding Niku to the Canadiens’ left side would help to ease the pain in that part of the Montreal lineup, and his style could do very well to mesh alongside Shea Weber or Jeff Petry if he were to be acquired.
The Hudon situation is a difficult one for the Canadiens. He’s played well in his professional career, and even this season he has performed decently well, but not up to his peak level. Even in spite of that, he should very well be a regular in the lineup right now, but it’s hard for a coach to make a lasting personnel change to a group that has largely been playing well, even without any point production.
If they want to move him, there are other options besides those mentioned above, but it would likely mean moving out another asset and taking a chunk out of their own forward depth again. It’s not a straightforward path to navigate, and Marc Bergevin has the unenviable task of trying to work it out in the coming weeks.