When the Montreal Canadiens re-signed and subsequently left Charles Hudon unprotected for the Expansion Draft in the offseason of 2017, there were many mixed emotions among fans of the team. For starters, Hudon has become the focal point of a large section of the fanbase who clearly believes that Hudon is ready to make the NHL roster. At the very least, he’s ready to be tried on the big club due to the Canadiens’ persistent lack of offense that has plagued them over the last few seasons. Ranking 20th, 16th and 15th in goals scored in 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 respectively, it’s been clear that the team needs some sort of boost.
Why then, has Charles Hudon been sitting in the AHL all this time?
It’s been one of the biggest mysteries in recent years. Scoring 19 goals and 57 points in 75 games in his rookie season in the AHL, followed by 28 goals and 53 points in 68 games the following season and then an impressive 27 goals and 49 points in just 56 games last season, Hudon has only earned himself six games at the NHL level as a result.
Playing in three games in 2015-16 and recording two points, Hudon showed that he could make an impact with whatever limited ice time and opportunities were granted his way. Unfortunately, he didn’t see another game of NHL action until the 2016-17 season. Similarly to his first taste of NHL action, Hudon played in just three games in this stint as well, recording two assists, boosting his point total to four points in six games. Proving he can score at the AHL level while also producing points at the NHL level, Hudon simply couldn’t crack the NHL lineup consistently. That could all change in 2017-18, however.
Paving His Way With the Canadiens
With a new head coach in the fold, the 2017-18 season could be huge for Hudon. The issue standing in his way stems from the fact that the Canadiens are so deep at the left wing position, however. With a top-six featuring Max Pacioretty, Artturi Lehkonen, Brendan Gallagher and one of Alex Galchenyuk or Jonathan Drouin likely on the wing, Hudon’s best opportunity to make an impact early on would likely come in a bottom-six role. The Canadiens have mentioned that they intend on playing Drouin at center to start the season, but it also isn’t out of the realm of possibility that both he and Galchenyuk get opportunities down the middle – at different times or simultaneously on different lines.
If Hudon is destined to play on his natural wing, he would slot into the team’s third line while subsequently bumping fan-favorite Paul Byron to the right wing or the fourth line. Given the contract that Andrew Shaw signed with the Canadiens after being acquired from the Blackhawks, The Canadiens would likely prefer to keep him somewhere in the top-nine, at least to start the season. The Canadiens could decide that both Byron and Shaw are worthy of the spots on the team’s third line, however, and could start Hudon on the team’s fourth line. Bumping Andreas Martinsen out of the lineup early in the season wouldn’t be the end of the world. Starting Hudon on the fourth line, however, could prove to be troublesome.
Two-Way Contracting Playing a Role
At 23 years old, the Alma, Quebec-native is the perfect age to start his NHL career. Due to the Canadiens’ depth on wing as mentioned, though, Hudon could still find himself on the outside looking in. It would be disappointing for Hudon and for fans of the Canadiens, but Hudon’s contract could be the deciding factor in him starting at the AHL level rather than the NHL level. With a two-way contract for the 2017-18 season and a one-way contract for the 2018-19 season, Hudon could be the odd-man out to start the year simply because of salary purposes – something that has affected team’s rationale in the past. Still, if the Canadiens are looking to put their best possible team on the ice, the two-way factor shouldn’t play a role as much. If an injury should occur or a player goes cold, Hudon could be the next-man up, but his contract situation for the 2017-18 season certainly doesn’t help his chances with the team this season.
It’s for that reason that Hudon must give it his all in training camp. If he can play at his best throughout camp and the preseason, he could force the Canadiens’ hand. If he manages to do so, however, he’ll need to be given the right opportunity to succeed at the NHL level.
Skilled Players Playing With Skilled Players
If the Canadiens want to maximize the potential of Hudon early, they’ll need to play him in a role that best suits his playing style. While there are some players who can start with the fourth line and eventually make the jump to top-line success – someone like Brad Marchand, who Julien started in a fourth-line energy role before converting him into one of the best players in the entire NHL during his time with the Bruins, others simply cannot be expected to produce when put in the wrong situation. Hudon might excel in a fourth line role, but there’s also a very real chance that he falters and winds up sent back to the AHL with the Habs new affiliate, the Laval Rocket.
It’s for this reason that playing Hudon in the proper situation is imperative to his long-term success with the team. He’s proven that he’s earned the opportunity. Despite Byron’s 22-goal campaign last season and Shaw’s contract, both players are likely destined to be bottom-six players throughout their careers. Hudon, on the other hand, has the chance to become a bonafide top-six player who can contribute and spark a team’s offense with consistency – something he’s proven at every level he’s played at, including his brief time in the NHL. If the Canadiens are serious about Hudon’s future with the team, they’ll give him every opportunity to earn a top-nine role out of training camp.