“I don’t think Charles is far, but he has work to do,” Laval head coach Joël Bouchard says. “That’s why he’s here with us.”
After the season of his discontent, Charles Hudon understandably doesn’t want to dwell on the past and is seeking a fresh start.
Whether that chapter will unfold with the Canadiens organization remains to be determined.
“I don’t want to talk about last year. It’s done. I’m moving forward,” the Laval Rocket forward said Monday, following a 60-minute practice at Place Bell. “Right now, my future is tomorrow. We’ll see. I’m in Laval right now. We’ll see what happens after.”
Hudon, a fifth-round (122nd overall) draft choice by Montreal in 2012, was one of the last players put on waivers by the Canadiens near the end of training camp. And, when he cleared waivers, he was assigned to the Canadiens’ American Hockey League affiliate.
Hudon hardly was caught by surprise. After playing 72 games for Montreal the previous year, he was limited to 32 contests last season and held to three goals and five points. He didn’t dress for the final 22 games and played in only two of the last 27 — none after Feb. 17.
The native of Alma probably saw the writing on the wall in April, when the players packed up after missing the playoffs, and the 25-year-old had tears in his eyes while addressing the media. Indeed, it was somewhat surprising when Hudon, a restricted free agent last summer, was re-signed, agreeing to a one-year, one-way US$800,000 contract after rejecting a qualifying offer.
“I’m not thinking about (the demotion) anymore. I’m thinking about my game and my stuff,” he said Monday. “We’ll see what’s going to happen in the future, but I’m living in the moment. That’s the kind of stuff that can happen during the season. I have to work my ass off to come back.”
But there is optimism or Hudon, at least for the immediate future. Head coach Joël Bouchard has the offensive-minded Hudon playing on the top line, along with Ryan Poehling and Alex Belzile. Through seven games, Hudon has scored twice while adding an assist. His plus/minus rating, however, is minus-2.
He’s shooting and listening to Bouchard. That, more than anything, might eventually get him recalled; the coach potentially putting in a good word with Canadiens management.
But Bouchard also believes the next few weeks are crucial for Hudon.
“I don’t think Charles is far, but he has work to do. That’s why he’s here with us,” Bouchard said. “The quicker a player recognizes that, the quicker he tries to be himself … with improving things. Now it’s for Charles to step up and do it.”
Bouchard believes Hudon’s at his apex when he’s decisive and invested in his game. The coach added there’s not enough consistency in the way Hudon’s playing and he shouldn’t overthink when on the ice.
“He needs to have a style of play that will make him think less and be more engaged in the play,” Bouchard explained. “He’s really good when he’s decisive. That’s like everything in life. Be decisive. Be wrong, but be wrong doing it.
“The next 15 or 20 games, I think, will be very important. We all have times in our lives when we need to step up. It’s not life and death. It’s hockey, and I like him. Hockey challenges you. But at one point, you need to step up.”
Bouchard, a former defenceman who played for eight NHL teams, probably sees some of himself in Hudon. Bouchard spent a good portion of the late stages of his career in the minors, after he had played 276 big-league games.
“I was there before. I know what that is,” Bouchard noted. “If it was easy, everybody would stay in the NHL forever. The reality is it’s a tough league. It can chew you apart. If you’re not there, especially if you clear waivers, you know you have to work on stuff.
“I don’t think anybody should feel bad for this. The reality is it’s the NHL … the best league in the world.”
Hudon, 5-foot-10, now weighs 190 pounds after being told by Canadiens management to add some pounds last season to make him stronger. His speed and confidence have returned. And, after the Rocket just completed an eight-day stretch in which the team had five games, Hudon again is relishing the opportunity to play and to contribute.
“It feels great, although it was tough for sure for the body,” he said. “It’s been a while I didn’t play a lot of games like that in a couple of days.
“It was tough last season. I was frustrated for sure. Right now, I’m just focusing on my stuff here. We’ll see what happens after.”