Montreal Canadiens: Arber Xhekaj Traded to Contender in OHL

WINDSOR, ON - SEPTEMBER 29: Arber Xhekaj (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)
WINDSOR, ON - SEPTEMBER 29: Arber Xhekaj (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens had one really good story come out of their ridiculously long training camp.

Arber Xhekaj was a player I can safely say no Habs fans had heard of before he arrived at the team’s rookie camp back in the fall. At the very least, no one could pronounce his last name or remember how to spell it even if they had just looked at it.

Okay, that might still be the case, but the prospect whose last name starts with X has really made a name for himself.

Xhekaj played great in rookie camp after sitting out the 2020-21 season due to the OHL shutting down for Covid purposes for the entire season. He was then asked to attend the team’s main camp and he performed well there too. Xhekaj suited up for a couple of preseason games and looked great, using his size and physicality to defend well and also his skating and shot to create offence.

He last played in the 2019-20 season when he scored six goals and 17 points in 51 games. He also had 88 penalty minutes as he wasn’t scared to use his 6’4″ and 225 pound frame to intimidate the opposition.

This season, Xhekaj has taken a huge leap forward. Of course, it is two years since he played, but he has shown there is much more offence to his game than previously realized. In 18 games this season, Xhekaj has scored six goals and matched his previous high of 17 points.

While Xhekaj has been great this season, his team has been just okay. The Rangers have a record of 13-12-1 after 26 games and have the 7th best points percentage in the OHL’s Western Conference. They are in the playoffs, but likely to get a league powerhouse in round one and have little chance of advancing.

With the trade deadline approaching, the Rangers chose to sell off a few veterans and Xhekaj was one of them.

The Habs prospect was dealt to the Hamilton Bulldogs for two second round picks, two third round picks and a fourth round pick. The haul of picks show how valuable Xhekaj has been, especially considering he is an overaged player and teams can only have three of them on their roster, which reduces their value compared to younger players.

Xhekaj will now join Canadiens prospect Jan Mysak in Hamilton. The Bulldogs are 16-9-2-2 in 29 games this season and sit second in the OHL’s Eastern Conference. The Bulldogs are third in the OHL in goals scored with 118 right now, but need to tighten up defensively as they have allowed 103.

The acquisition of 20 year old Xhekaj will make them even better offensively, but will really help out defensively where he plays a physical, punishing style and shuts things down around his own net.

Xhekaj has really brought it at both ends of the ice this season, though he did cross the line a couple of times as well. He has been suspended twice this season for some controversial plays.

One was a nasty slew foot as a game ended and his second suspension was for making a “sleeping gesture” after knocking an opponent out in a fight.

The Bulldogs are definitely a team for Habs fans to keep an eye on now with Mysak one of the team’s top scorers up front and Xhekaj a dangerous two-way threat on the blue line.

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