It’s no longer a secret, the Montreal Canadiens currently have a very interesting defending succession. The names that emerge most often are those of Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris and Justin Barron, but there are also Jayden Struble, Logan Mailloux and Mattias Nordlinder.
These were all top picks (in the first three rounds), so it’s only natural that they get a lot of publicity.
But in the shadow of all these top picks, a young defender stands out more and more and it’s Arber Xhekaj. The latter was never enlisted, but the young man was invited to the CH training camp last fall. The southpaw had so impressed that he was offered a contract on the spot!
But who is this player with the Kosovar family name?
Xhekaj is fat. In fact, at 6’4 and 204 pounds, he is the tallest and heaviest blue line prospect of the Habs previously named.
He finished his OHL regular season with 12 goals and 22 assists, scoring 34 points in 51 games. His 138-minute penalty was (by far) a record.
Not afraid of solid controls at all and not afraid to fight.
Revisit #GoHabsGo Arber Xhekaj’s fight and the ensuing gesture that led to him being suspended from OHL for three games. Tonight he will be back in training for Kitchener vs. I play Owen. pic.twitter.com/SbMZxqqXkj
—Hadi Kalakeche (@HadiK_Scouting) December 15, 2021
His profile is so interesting that the Hamilton Bulldgos, who finished first in the OHL in the regular season, acquired him for their playoff run.
This bet paid off. Hamilton is tied 2-2 in the OHL Finals and Xhekaj has 13 points, including six goals, in 15 games. His +12 differential places him in seventh place in the playoffs in this regard. With a 44-minute penalty in the playoffs, he is still first on the circuit in this category.
Additionally, Xhekaj broke several franchise records with his playoff performances.
OTHER BROKEN RECORDS – Arber Xhekaj Edition!@BulldogsOHL franchise playoff leader in:
Most goals by one D: 6 – Xhekaj, 2022 (was 5 – Riley Stillman, 2018)
Most SOGs for D: 63 – Xhekaj, 2022 (was Ben Gleason, 2018)
Most IMPs: 44 – Xhekaj, 2022 (was Ryan Moore, 2018)#BeTheHammer pic.twitter.com/khiCXpV0QK
—Aaron Walsh (@MrAaronWalsh) June 11, 2022
Despite his very robust playing style, he made some brilliant plays in attack.
– OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) May 21, 2022
– OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) June 5, 2022
Last week, the southpaw even scored a Gordie Howe hat-trick.
However, it also sometimes happens that Xhekaj’s style of play and his indiscipline hurt his team. In the first match of the OHL final, he was ejected from the game in overtime due to an illegal body check. Hamilton then lost the game to a goal scored when he was short on resources for his penalty.
But Xhekaj receives praise from the Canadian organization. Kent Hughes even mentioned his name a few times this winter.
During a question and answer session with Marc Dumont, Adam Nicholas, the new development director of the Habs, made some nice comments. When he started talking about defensive backs in the organization, he immediately called Xhekaj.
This guy is an absolutely thrilling defender. He is very strong and powerful.
Nicholas later explained that the Bulldogs player needed to hone his offensive game before reaching the NHL, but it’s still a nice accolade. The skating specialist would not have mentioned him if the organization had not believed in him.
Of course, we shouldn’t expect Xhekaj to make the leap with the big club next year. Most likely he will have to play Laval at least two years before becoming an NHL starter as he hones his game and works on his indiscipline of him.
And since Xhekaj offers a very different profile to Ghule, Harris and others, namely a brute on the blue line, it’s a very interesting option for the Canadian.
The best comparison for him would probably be Radko Gudas; a strong player who evolves on a third pair of defenders, but stands out for his physical play and the intensity of him.
So you have to moderate your expectations, but hockey is still a violent sport and most teams want players of this type.
The development of Xhekaj will follow in the coming years. Luckily for Habs fans, they will most likely be able to see him play up close at Place Bell next year.
– Keep on
He targeted the private parts, that’s clear. Is this enough to suspend it? I don’t know, but if the same gesture had been committed during a match, he would have received a 5-minute major and would have been sent off. If he plays, there will be no consequences.
– Anthony Marcotte (@anthonymarcotte) June 11, 2022
– The joy of spring!
– x – Laval Rocket (@RocketLaval) June 11, 2022
– Curve Ball (@curveball) June 11, 2022
Former Masters Champion Charl Schwartzel grossed $ 4.75 million on Saturday by winning the inaugural event of LIV Golf, the richest tournament in golf history. https://t.co/2nZmv Cosmi
– Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 11, 2022
– Doug Wilson’s successor may be announced shortly.
GM Sharks Research Update: After lengthy interviews of 4-6 hours each with a dozen candidates, San Jose will cut the candidate list next week and continue with the next step in their process.
– Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 11, 2022