Can Charles Hudon Crack the Canadiens Lineup in 2020-21?

After putting up 30 points in 72 games in 2017-18 as a 23-year-old, signs pointed to Montreal Canadiens’ forward Charles Hudon developing as a solid third-line winger with offensive upside. He skated well, showed flashes of grit and had a rocket of a shot.

Granted, his plus-minus differential scoured the underworld with minus-12 on the year, but this number loses its significance looking at Montreal’s 29-41-13 record and goal differential of minus-51.

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After a few solid seasons in the AHL and this successful first kick at the can in the NHL, he looked an integral part of Montreal’s ‘retool’ going forward. However, Hudon has yet to play another full season with the Canadiens and is having difficulty translating his success in the AHL to the next level.

What Happened with Hudon?

The following season, Hudon played only 32 games, spending 25 more as a healthy-scratch for Claude Julien’s squad, including the last 22 of the season. Flashes of inconsistency and loss of confidence drove Hudon to the fringes of the Canadiens lineup.

He ended up taking bad penalties and playing with a level of frustration that stifled his attempts at offensive production. Accordingly, his point production dropped to five microscopic points in 32 games, even with a TOI and PPTOI similar to his previous successful campaign.

Charles Hudon #54 of the Montreal Canadiens
Charles Hudon #54 (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

In 2019-20, Hudon signed a one-year, all-in contract and was ragdolled down to Laval and back up to the Canadiens in an attempt by Montreal at gaining roster flexibility throughout November. (from ‘Stu Cowan: Canadiens winger Charles Hudon battling to remain in NHL,’ Montreal Gazette, 11/28/2019) He put up 2 points in 15 games, and although there were flashes of his previous self here and there, especially off the rush, he looked frustrated and deflated.

Offensive production is not a problem at the lower level. Hudon is a consistent point-producer in the AHL. He has been since the 2014-15 campaign. This season he put up an impressive 27 goals in 46 games, being selected to the AHL’s All-Star game.

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Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Hudon bullied the opposing teams on the power play with cross-ice passes and one-timer shots, gifting the Laval Rocket precious points in the final stretch towards making the playoffs before the season was halted.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Montreal Canadiens
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Hudon’s confidence was evident in the AHL, and although his defensive commitment was sometimes questionable, his offensive acumen often put opposing defensemen on the backfoot. He battled for loose pucks and used his stick to produce takeaways, hit opposite players on the forecheck and on the backcheck and beat goalies with his rocket shot.

Although his release is sometimes slow for the NHL, Hudon can create problems for opposing goalies from the high slot, as well as behind screens and on the rush.

It feels as if Hudon was never given a proper shot at being a regular NHL-player after his 30-point season. Rumors have him crossing the Atlantic Ocean to play in Europe, but it is evident that he could help the Canadiens. While Hudon has been included in trade rumors for the past two years, there is a vacant place for him on the fourth line.

An Offensive Threat on Montreal’s Fourth Line?

When Hudon is confident and given freedom to express his offensive upside, he is a threat to opposing teams. While he might never become a top-six forward in the NHL, a confident Hudon could put up between 30 and 40 points as a third or fourth liner for at least a couple seasons. For a squad that finished 18th in the NHL in goals scored, Hudon could be a useful boost in secondary scoring that is sorely needed in the race towards making the playoffs.

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It is highly unlikely Dale Weise will be re-signed by the Canadiens. While he is a good veteran presence and loves the city of Montreal, the club’s retool will leave room for younger players to develop in an NHL spot. Hudon could fit in as a fourth-line winger if his role is made clear and if Claude Julien gives him time to adjust and embrace this shutdown, forecheck role. The coach’s responsibility is to inject confidence into his troops, and this could go a long way in helping Hudon rekindle his rookie form.

Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien training camp
Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien talks with players during training camp (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

What is more, Hudon could fill gaps in Montreal’s struggling power play if need be, playing as bumper on the Petry-Suzuki-Tatar-Gallagher unit instead of Philip Danault. His stocky frame, good stickwork and powerful wrister could be assets to this unit, while giving Danault a much-needed break to focus on his five-on-five and penalty-killing duties.

As an RFA with arbitration rights and promising offensive talent, Hudon deserves another shot at the NHL. Although rumors of Hudon’s departure towards the KHL and Switzerland have recently been thrown around, they were quickly dismissed by his agent, who claimed that his client is an NHLer, and wants to play in the NHL.

It is possible that Hudon’s chemistry with Kotkaniemi could translate to the NHL, and the pair could create havoc around the opposing nets on a Montreal power play that has struggled for years. Montreal’s man-advantage could certainly use a breath of fresh air and newfound chemistry. If Hudon is not in the Canadiens’ plans, another NHL team should take a chance with him to bolster their depth scoring and bring in a still-promising offensive player.