The 5-foot-10 winger from Alma, Que., who’s produced at nearly a point-per-game clip in the AHL over the last three seasons, came to camp feeling as though these would be the most important weeks of his hockey career. His performance thus far has shown he’s taking nothing for granted.
When the on-ice sessions began last Friday, Hudon found himself paired up with veteran Tomas Plekanec and sophomore Artturi Lehkonen. Chemistry between the three percolated through Saturday and boiled over at the Bell Centre on Sunday, when they combined for three goals in an intra-squad scrimmage. Hudon set up all three plays, exhibiting his shiftiness through the neutral zone and his offensive instincts near the goal-line.
“Since the [Canadiens annual] golf tournament [held on Monday, Sept. 14] I said I was going to play hard, and I’m going to play hard every single day,” Hudon said on Tuesday. “Even on Sunday, for a scrimmage, I played very hard, I did what I did, I did great, and I just want to continue with that.”
Consistency. That’s what it’s all about.
There have been plenty of doubts within the organization over the last three years that Hudon could be a consistent producer at the NHL level. Had there not been, he might have been here sooner.
There was hope Hudon, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2012 NHL Draft, would break through last season. He was called up in November, played three games and managed assists in two of them, before suffering a fractured sternum in practice.
Hudon returned to action in the AHL in December, got right back to leading the St. John’s IceCaps offensively, and he waited for another call from the Canadiens that ultimately never came.
“I wouldn’t say I was frustrated,” he said. “I was hoping for a call for sure, like everyone in the AHL. I was feeling good on the ice after that little injury. But I wasn’t sitting around waiting for a call. I said to myself I was going to step up my game and get the St. John’s IceCaps to the playoffs. That’s what I did; that’s what we all the group of leadership did, like [Chris] Terry and [Jacob] de la Rose and [Mike] McCarron. We figured it out and stuck together on the goal to make the playoffs.”
When the IceCaps got there, they ran up against a more experienced Syracuse Crunch team that disposed of them in four games before making a run to the Calder Cup final and losing in six games to the Grand Rapids Griffins. But Hudon showed his edge in that short series, leading the team with a goal and three assists.
Now he’s turning heads at Canadiens training camp.
“He’s going to be a dynamic player, that’s for sure,” said Canadiens defenceman Jordie Benn, who’s been skating in the same group as Hudon since camp opened. “He can handle the puck and the kid can skate. Obviously he’s in great shape, he’s like a little pit bull out there. He’s just one of those players that in due time is going to be one of the big players in this league.”
Ales Hemsky, who signed with the Canadiens in July and has scored 572 points in 838 NHL contests, said he sees a player with “a ton of skill and even more energy.”
When Hemsky was asked about what Hudon could do to take a spot on the Canadiens roster, he said: “It’s tough to make the NHL. It’s not just tough to make the NHL, it’s tough to establish yourself in the NHL and play for more than one or two years or five years. You’ll get your crack if you’re talented and you play good, but you have to work hard and find a way to crack the NHL. You have to find a role to fit in and then you can slowly experiment with your skills and stuff like that. I’ve seen a lot of guys who didn’t figure it out.”
But Hudon appears to be on the verge of doing exactly that.
“I train in the summer with Alex Burrows (Ottawa Senators) and Antoine Roussel (Dallas Stars), and they told me I have to just play my game and do what I did in the AHL to be successful,” said Hudon. “I’m not even thinking about if I have a spot or no spot. I’m taking the chance to grab one and grab it for a long time. Right now I’m happy with what I’m showing. I just want to keep that going.”
The next opportunity for Hudon to show what he can do is a pre-season game against the Washington Capitals at the Bell Centre Wednesday.