TORONTO, ON – When the Montreal Canadiens selected Charles Hudon with the 122nd overall selection in last June’s NHL Entry Draft, the anticipation was a far cry from the usual refrain of “there go the Habs taking their obligatory token Francophone.” Expectations of Hudon were much higher than an Olivier Archambault, Gabriel Dumont, or Olivier Fortier – mid-round picks over the past few years. It seemed, perhaps, that the scouts in Montreal had nabbed a slider – a player that some had as high as the second round – and at that, right in their own backyard.
Hudon burst on to the scene in 2010-11 scoring nearly a point a game (60 points in 63 games-played) as a 16-year old QMJHL rookie with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. He wasn’t as dominant as many had hoped last season, with a point-per-game improvement from .952 to 1.18, but then falling off in the post-season where he had just 11 points in 18 contests. That combined with his south-side-of-average size (5’10”, 171 lbs) may have scared some clubs off, but many may already be regretting that choice as the Alma, Quebec native has been lighting his league up this season.
Though he’s missed a handful of games with injury, Hudon ranks just outside the top 30 in league scoring, with 36 points in 27 games. His 18 goals place him in the top-20 in the ‘Q’ and are already just seven off of the high he set a year ago. In fact, entering Sunday’s game against Cape Breton, Hudon was one of his league’s hottest players, riding a 13-game point streak, over which he had amassed nine goals and 20 points. His streak would unfortunately be ended on that night with the lowly Screaming Eagles upsetting the Sags, but Hudon – who was also officially unveiled as Chicoutimi’s full time captain earlier in the week, and earned the game’s third star despite being held pointless – won’t have much time to feel bad about it.
For Hudon and many others of his age group, today starts a form of Christmas holiday away from the CHL. Junior players from across Canada are boarding flights to Calgary to kick off Hockey Canada’s final selection camp in preparation for the upcoming IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, which begins annually on Boxing Day.
37 players were invited to this final camp, with Hudon being one of 21 forwards battling for likely 13 jobs. There are a number of guarantees, starting with locked-out Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and returnees Jonathan Huberdeau, Boone Jenner, Ryan Strome, and Mark Scheifele, but there will be major competition to round out the offensive group.
Among aspirants are a strong crowd of future stars – players almost certain to be taken near the top of the next NHL draft, whenever and how ever it takes place – including Halifax teammates Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, in addition to the WHL’s Hunter Shinkaruk and the OHL’s Sean Monahan. It will be interesting to see Hockey Canada’s approach to evaluating these players, as the tournament is generally considered to belong to the 19-year olds, though the latter two have already had their 18th birthday which may give them an edge.
The rest of the list contains a smattering of highly regarded prospects, potential two-way role players, and guys previously perhaps less on the radar but having good seasons.
It may sound like the young Hudon – who will be eligible to play for Canada again in 2013-14 – may be in tough to earn a spot, but many analysts including TSN’s Bob McKenzie have him as an odds-on favourite – if not a virtual lock – to make the final squad. The reasons why extend beyond his current hot season to his entire body of work.
Hockey Canada has never hidden the fact that it likes players with international pedigree, and Hudon isn’t short in that department. He was a dominant star at the U17 World Hockey Challenge in 2010-11, where in 2006 he netted five goals and 11 points in just six games. He then made Canada’s team for the World U18 tournament later that the year, though he was held to a single assist in seven games. This experience led to Hudon receiving an invitation to Canada’s summer camp last August (also known as the Canada-Russia Challenge) in preparation for the upcoming WJC, and there he stood out on a regular basis as one of the team’s better forwards, scoring a goal and two assists in four games.
Noted head coach Steve Spott at the time: “He’s the kind of player that does everything well. He’s always on the right side of the puck and he has great offensive instincts – a big steal in the draft for Montreal.”
This versatility is another reason Hudon has a tremendous chance of joining his countrymen at the tournament in Ufa, Russia, since he can slot anywhere on the forward depth chart with success. Just as adept on penalty kill as he is on the powerplay, if Hudon is outclassed for a scoring top-6 role, then he can start out as a two-way energy player on a third or fourth line, not unlike Brendan Gallagher last year. Gallagher would go on to be one of the team’s better players in the tournament.
With Alex Galchenyuk playing for Team U.S.A., and Sebastian Collberg for Sweden, having Hudon join Team Canada will again this year make what is always some of the best hockey played even more fun to follow for Hab fans. And with the lockout now set to continue until at least the New Year, the spotlight will be shining even brighter on these young talents ready to step up to the challenge.