The past month has been quite a whirlwind for 19-year old Montreal Canadiens prospect Charles Hudon.
As if playing for Hockey Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden wasn't enough pressure, the 5-foot-10, 171-pound forward, selected in the fifth round (No. 122) in the 2012 NHL Draft, was traded from his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team, the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, to the Baie-Comeau Drakkar on Dec. 20. Hudon was overseas when he got the news and admitted it took him by surprise.
"It was tough," Hudon said. "Chicoutimi was my home and I loved it there. It was very tough. But playing for Team Canada at the time made it a bit easier and they gave me a good welcome here in Baie-Comeau by the players and the team and I'm excited to be playing here now."
Canadiens prospect Charles Hudon was playing overseas for Canada at the WJC when he learned his junior hockey team had traded him. He's fit right in with his new teammates, though, and is working hard at improving his game. (Photo: Gregory Shamus/NHLI)
Hudon may not have had the playing time he wanted in Malmo but he made the best of the experience with one goal and one assist in seven games.
"I did my best to just stay focused on hockey at that time," Hudon said. "I just played my game and tried to help Canada as much as I could. That was on my mind for sure, but I just played hockey to get through it."
Apparently whatever shock he had being traded from the place he called home for three seasons wore off on the flight home. Hudon, who had 41 points (14 goals, 27 assists) in 33 games for Chicoutimi, fit in immediately with his new teammates and has three goals and five assists in five games for Baie-Comeau.
It also didn't hurt that Hudon was reunited with his former teammate from Chicoutimi and fellow Canadiens prospect Jeremy Gregoire, or that he went from the 13th-ranked team in the QMJHL in Chicoutimi to the best in Baie-Comeau, a favorite to win the President's Cup and make it to the Memorial Cup tournament.
"It's been a good experience," Hudon said. "Every game is so intense and means so much. You know you're going to have a chance to go far in the playoffs and you just want to play better every game and get ready for that."
Canadiens director of player development Martin Lapointe was impressed with the way Hudon handled the trade and believes the experience will make him a stronger person and player going forward.
"It can be surprising and tough to be traded, but playing hockey is his job and his main focus," Lapointe said. "Trades are part of the business and it forms character if you handle it right. You're walking into a new environment with new teammates and a new system. So I think it's going to be good for him."
Lapointe also likes the prospect of Hudon playing plenty of playoff hockey with Baie-Comeau well-positioned for a deep run, as well as the coaching Hudon will receive there.
"He has a great chance to win," Lapointe said. "I've played with their coach Eric Veilleux and I know he's a demanding coach but a fair coach. If you don't work hard the kid will know. So I think it will be good for him to have that type of coaching too, and that will help him with his development. Charlie knows it's for his best interest and for him to play more hockey this season with the potential Baie-Comeau has and the chance to win a [President's] Cup with them."
Besides soaking in the experience of being traded and playing in the playoffs, Lapointe has stressed to Hudon that he must rid himself of any bad habits sooner rather than later. For Lapointe and the Canadiens, stats aren't the focus with development of their prospects. They know Hudon has natural skill and hockey sense. Now is the time to learn how to use those attributes.
"He has all the skills and all the tools," Lapointe said of Hudon, who already has played nine games in the American Hockey League. "When he played in Hamilton last year he was one of our best players at the time and he was still so young. That shows us that he has a lot of hockey skills and hockey sense and he has a bright future.
"But when you play in juniors at that age you tend to get bad habits. You don't focus on details as much. So when I talk to him I say, 'I don't care about points and personal stats. I want you to play the right way. The right way to play in the NHL is how I want you to play now or at any level you're at. I want you to pay attention to details and the little things.' So that is the key for him right now."
One habit Lapointe wants Hudon to form is being more responsible in the defensive zone.
"In juniors you can turn away from a play or not play the whole ice and there's lots of details you can get away with which I really press on for him," Lapointe said. "I think he understands that and he's making that effort to establish good habits now and that's half the battle."
Hudon said he is well aware of where his focus needs to be at this point and is doing his best to heed the advice of Lapointe and Canadiens player development coach Patrice Brisebois.
"Martin Lapointe and Patrice Brisebois talk to me a lot about my [defensive] zone play," Hudon said. "I need to really improve on this and make sure I stay in the plus and help my team keep the puck out of the net. My main job is to score and produce offense but I need to be better defensively as well."
So with a pro career on the horizon Hudon will do his best to stay focused and continue to hone his skills with Baie-Comeau. That's how he got through injuries in the past and an eventful last month, and that's how he plans to reach his dream of playing in the NHL.
"I think last year when I got hurt and realized how lucky I am and what I can have in my future, that taught me to live in the present," Hudon said. "Then this last month too. I just go day-by-day and game-by-game now and try to get better every game."