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Thriving on change

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Charles Hudon is clearly a quick study.

In his rookie season with the QMJHL’s Chicoutimi Sagueneens, the Alma native amassed 60 points to earn Offensive Rookie of the Year honours. Three years later, after being traded to the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, Hudon registered 35 points in 24 regular season games and an additional 21 points in 22 postseason contests, leading his squad all the way to a decisive seventh game in the QMJHL Finals.

Photo credit: CHC - François Lacasse

This season, in his first full AHL campaign with the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Canadiens’ fifth-round pick in 2012 has established himself as one of the top rookies in the League, and he could finish the year amongst the Top 10 point-getters when all is said and done.

It’s safe to say that change isn’t something Hudon fears at all.

“I adapt quickly to a new environment,” offered Hudon, who has put up 51 points in 65 games since the start of the year. “The guys here help me a lot. Gabriel Dumont, for example, always has stuff to say to me and advice to give me. They’re small details here and there that help me.”

And, Hudon is doing everything possible to put those pieces of wisdom into practice, including those that were provided to him by the Canadiens’ brass last September.

“Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien met with me at the end of training camp and they told me to always give everything I’ve got on the ice. That’s the mentality I have every time I’m out there, whether it’s for practice or for a game,” mentioned the 20-year-old, who also benefitted from a nine-game stint with the Bulldogs towards the end of 2013.

Photo credit: CHC - François Lacasse

Hudon’s season got off to a flying start. After racking up seven points in eight games in October, he put up another 14 points in November – claiming AHL Rookie of the Month honours – before adding another 11 points to his resume in December, for a total of 32 points in his first 33 games.

Despite slowing down somewhat in January, he is still tied for the League lead in points amongst AHL rookies.

While he believed he’d be able to effectively transition from the Junior ranks to the pros, Hudon openly admits he was surprised by his offensive output early on.

“I was surprised by what happened, but at the same time I don’t worry about things like that. I don’t look at statistics too much, and I don’t look at where I am in scoring. In my mind, it’s all about the team. Since the start of the year, our goal was to get into the playoffs because it’s been a while since the Bulldogs have been there. That’s my ultimate goal,” offered Hudon, who was Hamilton’s lone representative at the 2015 AHL All-Star Game back in January.

That response says a lot about Hudon, who continues to impress not only with his game, but his serious attitude as well.

Martin Lapointe, the Canadiens’ director of player development, is quick to point out Hudon’s impressive maturity level for his age. Asked whether he’d expected that from the talented young gun, the former NHLer provided a frank and honest response.

“Not at all. I wasn’t expecting that from him,” admitted Lapointe, who follows the development of about 30 of the organization’s prospects. “I saw him play in Junior. I knew he had a lot of talent, but he also showed a lot of immaturity in his play, which is completely normal for a young player at that age. He really surprised me, especially from a maturity standpoint. He takes things seriously and he’s very down to earth. For a young player starting out in the AHL, being by himself, living like a real adult, that’s never a guarantee. That’s the aspect of Charles that really surprised me.

“When it comes to hockey, he’s got all the tools necessary to succeed, especially in terms of anticipation and his feel for the game. He’s really good at finding his teammates on the ice. He just needs to get stronger and spend more time in the gym. But, he’s very serious in the gym, too, so I’m not worried about him,” added Lapointe, who joined the Canadiens organization a few days before the former Sagueneens standout heard his name called at the NHL Draft in June 2012.

Photo credit: CHC - François Lacasse

Bulldogs head coach Sylvan Lefebvre insists one of Hudon’s best assets is his versatility, which was on full display when his squad’s top point-getter adapted to a new position during the season. The Canadiens might have drafted a left-winger, but Hudon is making his mark as a centerman in the AHL ranks this year.

“We were expecting good things from Charles. We knew he was a good player who could produce offensively and play well defensively as well,” offered Lefebvre. “He’s still learning to play center, but he’s adapted well and he’s doing well at that position.”

Hudon’s ability to thrive in multiple roles, in addition to his contributions on offense, have served Lefebvre & Co. well. The Bulldogs’ coaching staff has seen a bevy of players called up to Montreal throughout the year, forcing them to juggle their lineup several times over.

Sven Andrighetto, Christian Thomas, Jacob De La Rose, Jarred Tinordi, Gabriel Dumont, Michael Bournival, Greg Pateryn, Drayson Bowman, Eric Tangradi : Charles Hudon has seen them all come and go, without receiving a call himself. But, he’s not the type of person to complain about it.

In the meantime, Hudon is simply watching and taking notes.

“It motivates me to see my teammates called up,” admitted Hudon. “Every time one of them comes back, I’ve always got a ton of questions. I try to gather as much information as I can so I can be ready when it’s my turn up there.”

That opportunity could come sooner rather than later if Hudon continues on his current track. But, he isn’t thinking about that right now. After all, his primary objective is contributing to a lengthy playoff run in Hamilton. Everything else will follow in time.

As for how Hudon’s story might very well be written, the manner in which Brendan Gallagher made his mark comes to mind. Gallagher isn’t only a source of inspiration for Hudon, but for other Bulldogs players as well.

“Everyone with the Bulldogs looks at what happened with Brendan Gallagher and they’re inspired,” admitted Hudon, whose frame resembles that of the Canadiens’ gritty forward. “He’s someone who works hard, and he was a fifth-round pick like me. Size doesn’t matter. It’s your heart and your effort on the ice that really counts.”

If Charles Hudon’s career path ultimately plays out like that of Brendan Gallagher, we’ll surely see the Canadiens’ prospect in Montreal before long.

Vincent Régis is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.

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