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Canadiens’ Arber Xhekaj More Than an Enforcer

Arber Xhekaj Montreal Canadiens

In a season where the losses keep piling up for the Montreal Canadiens, fans look to the youth movement and its development. They watch young veterans, such as team captain Nick Suzuki, and the slick scoring of Cole Caufield. They watch the play of the 2022 first overall pick, Juraj Slafkovsky, and the rookies on the blue line like Jordan Harris and Kaiden Guhle. But one unlikely name on that list is Arber Xhekaj. 

Raised as a Canadiens fan, it must have been an emotional moment when he first wore a Habs sweater. If it seems he came out of nowhere, to most fans, he did. However, his path was filled with long hours of practice and hard work to get to where he is now, patrolling the Montreal blue line. 

Xhekaj, the Late Bloomer  

Xhekaj is a great story. Raised with a blue-collar upbringing by first-generation Canadians, going undrafted in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and NHL all points to a true Cinderella story. Everyone loves an underdog unless they have to play against this particular one. To get to this level, no one gets there just to be an enforcer playing almost no shifts. Being a productive, engaged hockey player is more important; being able to fight is just a bonus. But the 6-foot-4, 238-pound defender does bring an intimidation factor. 

As his confidence builds, so does his level of play. So far, he has proven that he has the necessary mobility and defensive skills to play a bottom-pairing role in the NHL. His physical style brings an edge that looks like a throwback to the old-school defenders who punished forwards on every shift. He brings a definite intimidation factor. After his first preseason game against the Ottawa Senators, Sens head coach DJ Smith made note of Xhekaj, saying, “We don’t like that the other team is targeting our guys. We’ll be ready the next game.”

Arber Xhekaj, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

He’s right that Xhekaj does target his opponents. He plays with a calculated physical style, just as he had in the OHL. Gord Miller mentioned on TSN radio about the impact the defender has against his opponents, stating, “He left a trail of devastation behind him in the OHL last year. I talked to several OHL coaches about (Xhekaj). People were terrified of him.” It’s a trend that has continued into his rookie NHL season. 

Canadiens’ Xhekaj Is Fearless  

On a nightly basis, Xhekaj demonstrates his fearlessness on the ice with his willingness to challenge, or accept a…

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