Mike Halford

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Looking to make the leap: Charles Hudon

This post is part of Canadiens Day on PHT…

Charles Hudon has played the waiting game for a while. Now it might be over.

On the checklist for a roster spot in Montreal this season, Hudon ticks several boxes. The 23-year-old Quebec native’s been a terrific scorer at the AHL level, which included 27 goals and 49 points in just 56 games last season, and his limited body of work at the NHL level — three games in ’15-16, and another three last year — have also been productive, with four points over the six contests.

In June, the Habs made a show of faith by signing Hudon to a two-year, $1.3 million extension, with the second year being of the one-way variety.

If those weren’t enough signs, consider what Montreal director of player personnel Martin Lapointe told the Gazette earlier this summer:

“Coming out of juniors, the kid spent three years in the AHL and he never bitched once,” said Lapointe. “He never asked: Why am I not called up? Why am I not with the big club.”

But many fans will be happy to hear that Lapointe believes Hudon’s time has come.

“This kid will be knocking on the door this year for a job in Montreal,” said Lapointe. “This kid has proved in the AHL that he can put the puck in the net. He’s a shooter, he’s got a great shot. He uses his stick well and his sense of anticipation is off the chart. The pucks sticks to him. He’s got great vision.”

The x-factor with Hudon is where he fits in the Montreal lineup. Based on his offensive pedigree and size — listed at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds — he’s not exactly built to be a bang-n’-crash fourth-liner.

But that entire school of thought might’ve changed in Montreal.

At forward, GM Marc Bergevin went big — literally — at this year’s trade deadline, acquiring the likes of Dwight King, Andreas Martinsen and Steve Ott. The moves didn’t pan out and, in retrospect, looked even worse given some clamored for Hudon’s recall at the time.

Those were largely the same folks that pointed out Montreal’s pedestrian offensive numbers (15th in the NHL in goals per game) needed more of an upgrade than those in the height and weight departments.

As such, Claude Julien’s bottom-six forward group could look plenty different this season. Torrey Mitchell will likely retain his 4C spot, but could be flanked by Hudon — who, it should be mentioned, is waiver eligible for the first time.

Other intriguing options for that line include Daniel Carr, Hudon’s longtime running mate in the AHL, as well as Jacob De La Rose and Michael McCarron.

Whatever the case, Hudon appears primed to be a prominent member of the Habs for the first time in his career.

It’ll be interesting to see what he does with the opportunity.

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    Disgruntled ‘Canes forward Nestrasil signs in KHL

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    Andrej Nestrasil, the Carolina forward that spent last year primarily in the AHL, has signed on to play with KHL club Neftekhimik, the league announced on Friday.

    Nestrasil, 26, made waves back in March while playing for the Charlotte Checkers, unloading on the ‘Canes organization in an interview with Czech news outlet Blesk. Nestrasil said he was “done here, 100 percent,” adding “I don’t way to stay here.”

    His frustration stemmed from the aftermath of a fractured vertebra, an injury that prematurely ended his ’15-16 campaign. He recovered in time to start last season, but only dressed 16 times — compared to 24 healthy scratches — before he was waived in early January.

    In speaking with Blesk, he said the ‘Canes “didn’t give me much of a chance after the injury.”

    “When I first got hurt, they wanted to help and were promising me things all over the place,” he continued. “But when it came down to it, they weren’t willing to actually do anything.”

    Nestrasil cleared waivers, and joined the Checkers. He’s finished up the year scoring 14 points in 39 games.

    This falling out between player and club happened pretty quickly. It was only two years ago that Nestrasil scored a career-high 23 points in just 55 games. Shortly thereafter, Carolina inked him to a $1.825 million extension, calling him a “a big body and a good fit for our team and what we’re trying to do.”

    USA Hockey won’t put NHL players on Olympic roster

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    PLYMOUTH, Mich. (AP) Wisconsin’s Tony Granato will coach the U.S. men’s hockey team at the 2018 Olympics, the first Winter Games without NHL players since 1994.

    Detroit Red Wings executive Chris Chelios, Yale coach Keith Allain, Boston University assistant Scott Young and former Buffalo Sabres coach Ron Rolston will make up Granato’s staff. Longtime USA Hockey executive Jim Johannson will serve as general manager.

    USA Hockey announced the appointments at a news conference Friday.

    Granato was an assistant under Dan Bylsma at the 2014 Olympics. The former NHL forward coached the Colorado Avalanche for parts of three seasons and has been an assistant with Colorado, Pittsburgh and Detroit.

    Johannson was on the management staff for the 2006, 2010 and 2014 Olympics and has been GM for the world juniors and world championships.

    Report: Prust to attend Kings camp on PTO

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    Back in June, veteran forward Brandon Prust said he wanted to return to the NHL.

    Now, he’ll get a shot.

    Prust will attend Los Angeles’ training camp this fall on a professional tryout, per LA Kings Insider. The deal comes after the 33-year-old spent last season with Nuermberg of the German League, where he had eight points in 29 regular-season games, and six in 11 playoff contests.

    This isn’t the first time Prust has attended an NHL camp on a PTO. Last fall, he skated with the Leafs during the exhibition campaign, but wasn’t offered a contract.

    Prust’s last big league action came with Vancouver during the ’15-16 campaign. The stint didn’t end well. The Canucks tried to trade Prust midway through the campaign but, after finding no takers, opted to send him to AHL Utica.

    Prust scored seven points in nine games for the Comets, but was allowed to leave the team in March to rehab his injured ankle.

    It’s worth pointing out that Prust has ties to the Kings organization. Dave Lowry, hired last month as a new assistant coach under John Stevens, was behind the bench in Calgary when Prust played there.

    Looking to make the leap: Kasperi Kapanen

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    This post is part of Maple Leafs Day on PHT…

    For some, Kasperi Kapanen made the leap last spring, when he appeared in all six of Toronto’s playoff games and scored a pair of goals, including a double-OT winner in Game 2 against Washington.

    But Kapanen wasn’t quite so sure.

    “Looking at the guys in this room, the top six,” Kapanen told Sportsnet during locker clean out day. “I don’t think I belong there.”

    The 21-year-old was right, to a certain degree. He spent the playoffs largely in a fourth-line role, skating alongside veteran center Brian Boyle and tough guy Matt Martin.

    Kapanen, though, is not in the Martin or Boyle mold. He was the 22nd overall pick in 2014 and has proven to be a quality scorer at virtually every level. He had 21 points in 41 games in his final year in the Finnish League — as an 18-year-old competing against seasoned professionals. He had five points in seven games for Finland’s gold medal-winning team at the ’16 World Juniors, scoring the OT winner in the final against Russia.

    Last year with the Marlies, he was a point-per-game player, with 18 goals and 25 points in 43 contests.

    Hardly the stuff of a fourth-liner.

    But such is life within the Maple Leafs organization. It seems a given that, based on his playoff exploits alone, Kapanen will get a longer look at the NHL level than he did the two seasons prior.

    He appeared in nine regular season games during the ’15-16 campaign, and just eight last year. Granted, injuries played a role in his limited activity in ’16-17.

    Yet Kapanen is right in that top six minutes will be tough to come by.

    Toronto had six forwards crack the 50-point plateau last year: Auston Matthews, James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Tyler Bozak. Outside of that group, other quality forwards remain. Connor Brown and Zach Hyman both acquitted themselves nicely in their rookie campaigns, and grinding veteran Leo Komarov was a lineup fixture, appearing in all 82 games while scoring 14 goals and averaging 17 minutes per night.

    And, oh yeah — the Leafs signed Patrick Marleau this summer.

    One would assume Kapanen will, at the least, be in line for a reprisal of his fourth line role, with the opportunity to move up the lineup should injuries or ineffectiveness occur. But he could very well spend more time with the Marlies this season, moving up and down from the AHL.

    In the end, put it this way: Kapanen should make some kind of leap this season. It’s just tough to predict where he’ll land.