Montreal Canadiens prospect report: December

The Hamilton Bulldogs edged the Grand Rapids Griffiths 2-1 Friday night at home. (Hamilton Spectator)

Every month throughout the NHL season we’ll be updating you on the development of key Montreal Canadiens prospects with up-to-date stats, videos, analysis and scouting reports.

Charles Hudon: C, Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
Drafted: Fifth round, 122nd overall, in 2012
Season to date: 24 GP/8G/20A/28P/plus-10

For Charles Hudon, shifting positions meant a greater emphasis on moving his feet. Now, the 20-year-old has motored his way to the top of the American Hockey League scoring chart.

As Hudon began his first season of pro hockey with the Hamilton Bulldogs this fall, the Montreal Canadiens organization decided a move from left wing to centre might be a good way to get the offence-oriented player more puck touches. The caveat was that Hudon would have to embrace the notion of perpetual motion, because playing in the middle requires a lot more skating than manning the flank.

“He tended to be standing still a little too much when he was on the wing,” said Bulldogs coach Sylvain Lefebvre.

It’s safe to say Hudon has embraced the challenge. Playing as a full-time pivot for the first time in his career, Hudon has registered eight goals and 20 assists for 28 points in 24 games as an AHL rookie, pacing all scorers in the league.

That kind of showing has to be intriguing for a Canadiens franchise that’s had some trouble generating goals the past few years, and sits 22nd in the NHL with 2.43 goals-per-game this season.

While Hudon was certainly viewed creative player coming out of junior, this level of production registers as a surprise. Then again, the native of Boisbriand, Que., may have flown under the radar a little bit during his final two years of major junior due to a back injury that kept him out of the 2013 World Junior Championship altogether.

Now, he’s staring to look like a late-round steal.

Despite his assist-heavy stat line, Lefevbre says Hudon—who mans the point on the power play—has some markings of a finisher, too.

“When he gets the puck around the net he’s not afraid to shoot,” Lefevbre said.

For evidence of his goal-scoring ability, check out this breakaway goal versus the Rochester Americans. (And bear with the announcer while he sorts out who’s who.)

The test for Hudon—who doesn’t have a big frame at five-foot-10—will be maintaining this pace while enduring the grueling AHL schedule for the first time, not to mention continuing to learn the nuances of a new position.

The youngster said his top concern is helping the Bulldogs win games, meaning he’s not preoccupied with getting the call from a big club that could use some more scoring and recently tabbed another offensive player, Sven Andrighetto, for an NHL showcase.

“I don’t think about that, I just think about myself and the team in Hamilton,” Hudon says.

So far, that plan has worked to perfection.

Montreal timeline: The Canadiens have a bit of a logjam at centre, but Hudon’s talent could push him into the team’s top-nine forwards next season.

Mike McCarron: RW, London Knights (OHL)
Drafted: First round, 25th overall, in 2013
Season to date: 20GP/14G/14A/28P/plus-9

In fairness to the Canadiens, they preached that McCarron was a long-term project from the moment they handed him an enormous sweater at the draft. Still, where once it seemed Montreal really overreached to grab the hulking forward in the first round, now some intrigue is starting to develop.

At six-foot-six and 225 pounds, it’s not hard to see why the smallish Habs fell in love with McCarron’s frame. The question all along has been, how much can the kid actually play? After a miserable first year in the OHL last season, McCarron has hit his stride despite being shelved early on this year with shoulder injury sustained in Canadiens camp.

Once an afterthought for Team USA’s world junior team, McCarron has earned an invite to the selection camp later this month. He’s made the most of playing beside Phoenix Coyotes first-rounder Max Domi on the Knights and, in the process, has Montreal fans dreaming about power forward potential.

Here’s some footage of his handiwork versus the Owen Sound Attack:

Montreal timeline: Adjusting to the speed of each higher level figures to be a challenge for McCarron. As such, it wouldn’t be surprising if he spends the next couple of years seasoning in the AHL.

Zach Fucale: G, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Drafted: Second round, 36th overall, in 2013
Season to date: 24GP/13-9-2/.890 SP/3.20 GAA

It has not been a banner season for Fucale, who is playing on an average team for the first time in his junior career.

While projecting goalies is always a perilous endeavour, Fucale had a bit of that can’t-miss vibe going after leading a loaded Halifax Mooseheads team to the 2013 Memorial Cup just a handful of weeks before he was drafted.

Things are a bit rougher in Halifax these days and Fucale hasn’t been able to elevate his team. He’ll get a great chance to restore his reputation at the world juniors, as he’s one of just two goalies (along with Eric Comrie of the Tri-City Americans) invited to Canada’s camp.

Montreal timeline: With Carey Price entrenched as the team’s No. 1 goalie, there’s absolutely no rush for Fucale. It’s hard to imagine he’ll see much NHL duty in the next couple seasons.

Nikita Scherbak: RW, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Drafted: First round, 26th overall, in 2014
Season to date: 24GP/14G/23A/37P/plus-11

An early-season trade sent Scherbak from the woeful Saskatoon Blades to the Everett Silvertips and he’s been a productive player for his new team.

Blessed with high-end skill, there was a sense Scherbak may have fallen to the Canadiens in the draft over the typical fears about Russian players possibly bolting for the KHL. While Scherbak’s decision to play major junior can be viewed as a positive sign from Montreal’s perspective, it seems to have worked against him in his home county, as the six-foot-two winger was left off Russia’s preliminary WJC roster. The decision hurts Russia’s chances at the tournament and denies fans a chance to see a kid who can clearly do some amazing things on the ice.

Montreal timeline: While the smart money is still on Scherbak developing outside the NHL for another season, his talent is such that he could push his way onto the Canadiens as early as next fall.

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