If Shea Weber is nicknamed “the mountain man” in the NHL, that nickname could likely apply to Arber Xhekaj in Canadian youth hockey.
Well, the prospect of the Montreal Canadiens still has a few scabs to eat before hitting Weber’s 230lbs, but at 6’4 and 204lbs, the Hamilton Bulldogs guard has established himself as a real force on the track this season.
“He’s a man on ice,” Bulldogs manager Jay McKee said Monday morning just hours before his team’s first match in the Memorial Cup tournament against the Saint John Sea Dogs. I think he is the player with the most impact in the entire OHL.
“He is massive and has good individual skills. You can do anything on the track. He can avoid pressure thanks to his skating or take opponents out of the game thanks to his physique. We are lucky to have him here. ”
To say he is the player with the most impact in the entire OHL is a nice compliment when you consider that the league has had several choices in the first round in the NHL, including his teammate and the third overall pick of the Ducks in 2021. Mason McTavish or top scorer in Canada Wyatt Johnston of the Windsor Spitfires.
At 21 – in his junior year of 20 – Xhekaj already has the physique of a man and you can understand the impact he has on the track, especially when he faces players aged 16, 17 or 18 who are still on track one. growth spurt.
However, its impact goes beyond the physical benefit, says McKee.
“Several 20-year-old players play in the league against younger players but they don’t have his physical impact. Sometimes I enjoy trying to push him around and he gives me a hard time, concedes to the coach, a former NHL defender of 6’3 “195lbs. […] He also has good hands and a good shot. He is not just a defender. ”
Certainly, however, certain advantages conferred on him by his structure will no longer be, or less, once he is among the professionals, adds the coach.
“When Arber makes the leap to the pros, he’ll have to simplify his game a bit. He can do things right now that won’t work at the next level. For example, he will no longer be able to get rid of an opponent with one arm. He will also have to manage the matches faster. ”
Ready for the next one
The past year has been a bit crazy for Xhekaj. Invited to Habs’ camp after missing an entire OHL season due to the pandemic, he forced the team’s hand, which made him sign an entry contract. He then started the season with the Kitchener Rangers before being traded to Hamilton, his hometown, with whom he won the championship.
“It’s hard to put into words what last season was for me. I hope now that we will conclude this with a title [de la coupe Memorial]. ”
Because his short-term goal remains the Canadian title with the Bulldogs. In the medium term, however, he also has great ambitions.
“I will keep the same mentality this summer during my training, but I will have to work twice as much because my goal is to play in the NHL next year. I am aware that I will probably need some time in the minors but I will train with the aim of playing in the NHL.
Also, if his name has given you trouble reading this text, know that Xhekaj is pronounced “Jack-aille”.