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Canadiens 2017 Top 25 Under 25: #5 Charles Hudon

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Montreal’s top prospect has all eyes on him heading into this season.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

After being drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 2012, Charles Hudon flew under the radar despite his outstanding production. He was a standout player in the QMJHL, and since turning pro in 2014 he has been among Montreal’s top prospects.

He’s done everything asked of him at the AHL level since first joining the Hamilton Bulldogs three years ago. Hudon is usually near the top of the league’s goal-scoring and points races, often at the top of his team’s leaderboard in those categories as well. He’s one of the most dangerous players on a nightly basis in the AHL.

Image credit: EliteProspects

In each of his professional years he has been a prolific scorer, despite leaning more toward being a playmaker during his QMJHL tenure. In limited NHL experience, he made the most of his ice time and has collected four points (all assists) in six games.

He shouldered the load for some poor Hamilton and St. John’s teams. Despite a mix of odd lineup decisions and rosters completed with a mishmash of ECHL and tryout players, he was able to remain an offensive force.

He’s played almost every conceivable role in the AHL, from being the top-line centre for a short period, to handling tougher defensive minutes. He has been the catalyst for the man advantage, as the IceCaps often used just one defenceman on their top unit, letting Hudon quarterback from the blueline, to great success.

With a new two-year contract in hand, there’s a good chance Hudon has seen the last of the AHL in his career. Both Marc Bergevin and Claude Julien spoke highly of him this off-season and made it a point to mention him being an important piece for Montreal. That’s not to say that he’s going to jump alongside Alex Galchenyuk on the top line, but he could very easily push a veteran or two down the lineup this year.

Voting

Everyone had Hudon ranked in the top nine, with two thirds of panellists placing him at #5. Four voters placed him lower than that position, and another four had him as the third- or fourth-best player under 25.

Top 25 Under 25 History

Hudon continues to sit near the top of this list, as he notches his second top-five finish, and his fourth consecutive top-10 showing. The only year he ranked lower was his draft year, placed 28th after being a fifth-round selection of the Habs in 2012.

Strengths

Hudon is, simply put, an offence-generating machine. He sets up scoring chances and finishes them with regularity. Regardless of who is put on his line the puck seems to find its way into the net.

His partnership with Chris Terry and Nikita Scherbak was one of the most prolific in the AHL this year, and it allowed Terry to shatter several IceCaps scoring records. It’s a cliché thing to say, but Hudon makes his linemates better almost immediately.

How exactly does he make himself into a multi-purpose threat? First and foremost he is an extremely smart player who reads the play well and knows where to be on the ice.

In the play above, the Syracuse Crunch player gets a puck with his back to Hudon, and the Habs prospect immediately picks his pocket and wires one into the far corner of the net. His speed and smarts force defenders to take care when he’s hovering near the offensive zone.

Not only does Hudon possess the smarts to be a dominant player, but his tenacity to get to the net and create chances in close for himself and teammates is one of his best attributes. He’s relentless on loose pucks and will battle with two or three defenders mugging him around the crease.

His assist on the McCarron goal above is the perfect representation of this. He shrugs off a defender to register a shot, shakes off a crosscheck to get a loose puck, and corrals it for a shot on net that his teammate scores on. He doesn’t let his smaller stature impede the way he plays the game, and will always be right in the mix around the net.

To cap off his offensive tools, Hudon has an almost unfair arsenal of shots to use against opposing goaltenders. His hands are quick and allow him to dangle around sprawling netminders, while finishing with a beautiful backhand. Or he can wind up and uncork a slapshot into the upper corner with almost no effort whatsoever.

Weaknesses

In the past two seasons, Hudon has missed a solid chunk of games due to various injuries, limited to just 56 games in 2016-17. He was out the longest after a freak collision between himself and teammate Chris Terry.

The injury put him out for a few weeks, forcing the IceCaps to rely on rookie Daniel Audette to handle Hudon’s minutes.

Being hit by teammates isn’t exactly something he can be blamed for. Had he been healthy for the entire 76-game campaign he would have easily eclipsed the 30-goal mark and his point total would have been even more impressive

While he has toned it down a little since his rookie year, Hudon does manage to accumulate a good chunk of penalty minutes over the course of a season. Most of those are retaliatory in nature as the response to being singled out in scrums. He might do well to take a page out of Brendan Gallagher’s playbook and smile at his opponents as they try to goad him into a penalty in the future.

Projection

Now eligible for waivers, with a new contract signed and the backing of the Canadiens’ coach and general manager, Hudon should be an NHL player this season. He’s been an AHL All-Star, his team’s offensive backbone for several seasons, and has been one of the most dangerous offensive threats since he joined the league three years ago.

He has more than earned his shot at regular NHL minutes at this point, and after the abject failure of the Dwight King addition in an attempt to bolster the bottom six last spring, leaning on young skill should be regarded as the way forward in Montreal.

The versatility in Hudon’s game is something Julien could use to his advantage this upcoming season. Obviously like anyone else he has to earn his roster spot, and starting him on a slightly sheltered fourth line alongside someone like Torrey Mitchell isn’t a terrible option. His skill set can give that group a boost over what might be just a checking line on other teams.

His time is now to show what many fans already know: Hudon is the best-kept secret in the Canadiens organization. He has to ability to give the roster some of the secondary scoring it has been lacking, and at less than $1 million he could be one of the best value players on the Habs’ roster.

His path isn’t set in stone, but this year is a big chance for Charles Hudon to prove he can be a core piece in Montreal.