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2018 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: #5 Charles Hudon

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His rookie season had its ups and downs, but the young forward proved he is more than capable NHL talent this year.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

One of this series’ longest-tenured players, checking in today is 24-year-old Charles Hudon, who after three successful AHL seasons finally found his full-time NHL home last year.

Every single year since he was drafted, Hudon has delivered consistent performances at every level, from being a team captain in the QMJHL, to terrorizing goalies in the AHL. No matter what sort of position he is put in, he seems to make the most of it, and with his first full time NHL shot in front of him, he turned in a solid 2017-18 campaign, one that can easily be built upon going forward.

By most metrics, Hudon showed the ability to play up and down the lineup with ease, developing chemistry with a number of players. His pre-season pairing with Tomas Plekanec and Artturi Lehkonen was outstanding albeit unlucky, while his short time alongside Max Pacioretty produced elite possession numbers. Going into this year, he’ll be expected to take another step forward, and given the horrendous luck he had to start the year, Hudon could be the breakout performer in Montreal this year.

Image credit: EliteProspects

It is easy to look at his 30 points in 72 games and write off Hudon’s season as a poor one, but digging deeper into how those points were created is crucial. In his season review series, it was noted that out of those 30 goals he factored in on, he had a primary point on 23 of them.

He drives the offence in the right direction, and despite being smaller in stature, he plays his game with an edge, never afraid to be in the net-front area or grinding along the boards. He has the hands to deke through opponents, and an array of shots to fool goaltenders. With the ability to play any role asked of him, he’s a player Claude will be able to rely on.

Voting

Consistent is the word describe the voting for Charles Hudon this year, with every voter featured having him in their top eight, while a few writers pegged him as a top-three player within the system.

Top 25 Under 25 History

It has been a fairly steady climb upward for Hudon since he debuted at #28 in this series back in 2012. Since then he’s been a top-10 finisher every year, and this is his third season within the top five itself. In his last year of eligibility, he rises a few spots once more.

Strengths

Versatility is the name of the game for the 24-year-old winger. He’s played everywhere from the fourth line in limited roles to the Canadiens’ top six for the majority of the year. He’s able to fit into any role asked of him, and did so with aplomb over the course of his rookie season.

In terms of his offensive game, Hudon isn’t a one-dimensional player. He is equally comfortable as the playmaker or finisher on any given line. Despite the lower-than-expected point total, he still showed he has the talent to grow and offer more on the scoresheet at the NHL level going forward. While he lit up scoresheets on a regular basis in the AHL, he had some tougher luck in Montreal last year, but those same skills he showed in Hamilton and St. John’s were still there.

He reads the game very well in the offensive zone, and knows where he has to be to be an effective forward. Even with the puck off his stick, he’s finding low-traffic areas to slide into to become a scoring option. With the puck on his stick, his head is always up looking for an open teammate.

It’s this awareness on the ice that makes him dangerous. He can see a lane and then immediately take it, forcing defences to scramble to try to keep up. With his good hands, he’s more than capable of going around defenders with nifty dekes and skating (just ask Erik Karlsson), but can also drive the net and get into the dirty areas for goals.

In short, in the offensive zone, there isn’t much Hudon cannot do, even if the stats were a bit rough in his rookie campaign. By all possession metrics, lines he was on for the majority of the season controlled play in a big way, and if bodies are traded and moved around, the Canadiens could do a lot worse than promoting him to a full-time role in the top six.

Weaknesses

By this point in the series, these players are either extremely well-rounded or highly talented players. For Hudon, the biggest weakness he had last year was almost comically bad luck to start the season; so bad in fact that despite being an elite possession line, he was split away from Artturi Lehkonen early on.

Part of this could be helped if Hudon continues to work on developing his shot going forward. In the AHL, he was able to beat goalies with slapshots and snapshots from angles that won’t quite work regularly on NHL-level netminders. This isn’t to say that Hudon isn’t capable of sniping goals (he’s still quite good at that), it’s just working on that skill further can lend itself to increasing how dangerous he can be on offence.

Projection

It’s going to be a roller-coaster of a year in Montreal, as the team continues to work through their don’t-call-it-a-rebuild phase. Hudon will be counted on to be that supplementary scoring threat behind Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, and will likely take on a bigger role if the former is traded over the course of the season.

Andrew Shaw and Paul Byron will miss some time due to off-season surgery, while the newly acquired Joel Armia is looking to stake his own claim. The arrival of Max Domi has shifted the Quebec native down the order a little bit, but if he continues to play the way he always has, he still has the chance to carve out that larger role on a permanent basis.

Heading into the 2018-19 season, Charles Hudon is arguably the Canadiens’ player most primed for a breakout year. Even with a solid 30-point rookie campaign, it’s very clear that he’s capable of more production. On a contract that is close to the league minimum, another step forward in point production would add to the value he already brings.

It’s Hudon’s final year in this series, and after all of those top-10 and top-5 positions, his tenure is capped off with him finally becoming a full-time NHL player.