In his tenure as coach at one the most respected New England prep schools in the United States, Pat Dennehy of Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn., has had the opportunity to instruct his fair share of young and gifted athletes from Quebec.
With all due respect, not one of those players -- several of which went on to play collegiately at an NCAA Division I or III school -- fit the profile of Dennehy's most recent Canadian catch; Philippe Hudon, one of the top prospects for the 2011 Entry Draft.
"We've had some tremendous kids from that province but none had as high a profile as Philippe," Dennehy told NHL.com. "I know Phil and his family have gone through tremendous scrutiny to choose this path and I think they really relied on their beliefs as a family that, while hockey certainly is important, so is an education and mind."
Hudon passed on an opportunity to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in order to play at Choate, and, next season, at Cornell University.
"I decided to leave for Choate primarily for hockey because I felt prep-school hockey was higher than Midget AAA (in Canada)," Hudon said. "And in terms of academics, Choate is one of the high-end high schools in the United States."
Choate plays in the Founder's League, which is considered one of the best high school hockey leagues in the country. Choate finished 21-6-1 and won the New England Prep Large School championship last season.
Despite being the youngest player in the New England Prep School League last season, the Montreal native had 8 goals, 20 points and 32 penalty minutes in 24 games.
"He had those physical tools and was a great skater for his age," Dennehy said. "The biggest difference is his maturity as a player. He's able to make such smart decisions in all three zones."
In 2009-10, Hudon was the only sophomore named to the All-New England Division West All-Star Team, even though he missed six games playing for Team Quebec at the 2010 World Under-17 Challenge.
"He's got physical gifts, a solid frame and can flat-out move," Dennehy said. "He's got great feet and plays with such an edge. Whether he scores a goal or not, he leaves his footprint on the game because he's great on the forecheck and defensemen are definitely turning their heads as he bears down on them. He's not afraid to use his size and he protects the puck very well. He's got a quick release and has a very lively shot -- skills not everyone his age are blessed with."
Hudon would like to join Mark Goggin, who currently is starring for Dartmouth, as the only players from Choate in the last 20 years to score 100 points at the school. Goggin, drafted by the Boston Bruins in the seventh round of the 2008 Entry Draft, had 44 goals and 61 assists for 105 points in 70 games spanning three seasons.
Hudon enters the 2010-11 campaign with 17 goals and 40 points in 45 games. He has not however, let his goal of attaining the century mark for career points at Choate affect his academics. Hudon maintains an impressive 3.5 grade-point average.
The pressure of succeeding academically and athletically, while being watched by NHL scouts almost daily, has to be overwhelming, no?
"I think I definitely feel the pressure, and I've always told everyone that I usually perform my best when I have a lot of pressure on," Hudon said. "If there's pressure, it gives me more incentive to work better and work harder … work for a better outcome and better result.
"I like challenges. I like to get to a certain point where I can distinguish myself from other players, and if that can be accomplished, then that would be great."
Dennehy said the biggest improvement with Hudon has been his positioning with and without the puck.
"That's the one area he made the biggest jump over the last two years," Dennehy said. "Get the puck, move it, move to an open space, get it back. He works the small areas on the ice because he's though and strong. He's that prototypical power winger who can play center, too. But I see him as a guy on the outside, who can get in the zone and grind it out."
Hudon is a big part of the Choate power play, as Dennehy always is looking for a way to have his star forward unleash his one-timer. While Hudon is used in multiple spots with the man-advantage, he's most effective when positioned in front of the net.
"The NHL game has changed over the last 10 seasons as smaller, quicker guys are getting more of an opportunity and it's becoming more of a skill game," Dennehy said. "But when you have a physically impressive player who can play like a small guy, as Phil does, that's what you're looking for. That's just like (Blake) Wheeler or one of the Staal brothers … the kind of players that Phil reminds me of."
NHL Central Scouting's Gary Eggleston also likes what he sees in Hudon.
"He is a classic power forward who takes a straight line to the net or to the puck in the corners," Eggleston said. "He has good size and strength, hits hard, plays the body in all zones and is an aggressive forechecker. Has some grit to his game, and plays with an edge. He has very good hands and possesses a hard and heavy shot with quick release."
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