Originally drafted as an undersized forward in the fifth round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Charles Hudon was considered a long shot to make any sort of major impact within the Montreal Canadiens organization. Fast forward to 2016, and with two full professional seasons under his belt, Hudon has become one of the most NHL-ready prospects in the pipeline.
He has posted back-to-back 50-point seasons for the Hamilton Bulldogs/St. John's IceCaps AHL affiliate, and has become one of the most dangerous forwards in the entire league. Add in his appearance on the AHL All-Rookie Team and an All-Star Game MVP trophy, it's not hard to see why many believe the Alma, Quebec native is ready for the big time.
In a short three-game stint with the Canadiens last season, Hudon tallied a pair of assists before being returned to St. John's, giving fans a glimpse of great things to come.
The votes were very tight for Hudon, with only two people ranking him outside of the top 10. Andrew, David, and Namiko had the high votes of fifth, while Patrik and Andrea had him lowest at 11th.
Top 25 Under 25 History
|2012: #28||2013: #10||2014: #10||2015: #5|
After initially debuting outside of the Top 25 in 2012, Hudon has placed no lower than 10th in any of the past four rankings. In last year's series he cracked the top five after a successful pro debut, but drops three spots this year to eighth overall.
Simply put, when Hudon is on the ice, his team puts the puck in the net with great efficiency. Whether he's the shooter or the playmaker, he has shown the ability to give opposing teams fits. Despite his small stature, it's rare to see him outworked along the boards. He uses his strength and sheer will to get the puck out of scrums and evades defenders with relative ease. He's also very capable in breaking away from the defence on a charge to the net, and uses his slick hands to beat goalies with little effort.
His awareness benefits him greatly in his offensive game, as he can retrieve the puck and immediately find the best option to pass it off to, or just drive it to the net himself. Despite a drop in assists in his second pro season, there shouldn't be any cause for concern about his production, as he was shooting more than in his rookie season — 181 shots versus 165 in 2014-15, and 2.7 versus 2.2 shots per game — not to mention scoring nine more goals.
His versatility in playing on both the wing and at centre is of great benefit to the Candiens, who can plug the dynamic player into either spot should injury concerns rear their head again, and he won't miss a step at either position.
Hudon is able to elevate the play of his linemates at any given time, which is evident in his partnership with rookie Nikita Scherbak this past season. While the ultra-talented Russian struggled to find the scoresheet with any sort of regularity to start the year, his offence exploded the minute he was paired up with Hudon. In one particular three-game weekend, the duo combined for four goals and six points in one of the most dominant offensive performances by an IceCaps unit all year.
While he uses what size he has to his advantage quite often, it also works against him in some ways. With the AHL being home to any number of cheapshot artists and goons, smaller players like Hudon are often the target of illegal checks and post-whistle shenanigans. He missed a handful of games after an Albany Devils player slammed him into the boards and injured him.
This leads into a problem that existed in the past, as well. Hudon was forced to miss the World Juniors tournament due to a recurring back injury, which appears to not be a lingering concern, but having suffered back injuries personally, you know they never truly heal 100%.
Perhaps the number one thing that he has to work on with his game is his ability to not react to opposing players after the whistle. Far too often he draws a penalty with his relentless effort, then immediately wipes it out by responding out of frustration with a slash or cross check to the offending player. Cutting down on his penalty minutes will go a long way to bolstering his already outstanding point totals in the long run.
Many believed he was ready for a shot at the NHL last year, so this year there's no denying that Hudon has the talent and capability to push for a roster spot in Montreal. While there is a glut of forwards competing for relatively few spots, Hudon is one that should be standing out and forcing the Canadiens front office to make the difficult choices.
Even if he is sent down as one of the few viable roster options not requiring waivers, there is little reason why he won't be able to earn the first call-up of the year. In just three games last season he tallied two points before being unceremoniously demoted to the press box, and ignoring scoring talent like that haunted the Habs last year.
Able to play the penalty kill, quarterback the power play, and spend his five-on-five minutes on either the wing or playing down the middle, he is the proverbial Swiss Army knife in the Habs prospect pool. While his ability dictates that he should be playing in the NHL this year, the chances of him leading a very young IceCaps team are quite high.
If he is returned to the Rock, anything less than being a league leader in points yet again would be seen as a disappointment. However, I firmly believe this is the year Hudon makes his mark and shows the Canadiens and fans just how good he really is.