Montreal Canadiens: Georges Laraque Praises Arber Xhekaj After Tilt With Ryan Reaves

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 12: Georges Laraque #17 of the Montreal Canadiens fights with Eric Boulton #36 of the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena on December 12, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA - DECEMBER 12: Georges Laraque #17 of the Montreal Canadiens fights with Eric Boulton #36 of the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena on December 12, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens have been one of the smaller teams for a long time, with a revolving door of journeymen and goons. Fortunately, they have taken a 180-degree turn and added a nice blend of size, skill and tenacity. One notch towards the toughness was when the Habs signed undrafted tough guy Arber Xhekaj.

During a summer episode of Tony Marinaro’s The Sick Podcast, Georges Laraque argued that Xhekaj is the toughest guy in the league, ahead of Ryan Reaves. Marinaro prodded Laraque, asking if he had given Xhekaj some lessons on his technique and stance like he previously did for Michael Pezzetta, but he denied it. In light of the Xhekaj and Reaves tilt during the season opener, when Xhekaj handled himself very well, Marinaro again poked Laraque about whether or not he had given advice to the Sheriff in Montreal.

Marinaro explained that he believed Laraque would only have such confidence in a player’s strength and fighting prowess if he dealt with it firsthand. Laraque finally showed his hand and agreed that he did in fact give the Habs tough guy some tips. He explained that they weren’t needed and that the rearguard could definitely handle himself, because of how strong and smart he is.

“Guys on the Montreal Canadiens will have more respect. They know they won’t make the playoffs,” said Georges Laraque. “Now he won’t have to do as much fighting because of his reputation. Not many guys in the league are his calibre, other than Reaves, Lucic, Deslauriers, and MacDermid and maybe Vincent Desharnais, in Edmonton.”

There weren’t any significant blows landed, but Xhekaj looked ready to go for another round, and Reaves just didn’t seem interested. Xhekaj showed some extra offensive flare on opening night, and it’s probably more important for him to be on the ice showing his skills than sitting in the penalty box. But he certainly, in my opinion, ruffled Reaves feathers pretty good, which might set up a nice round-two showdown the next time the Habs and Leafs renew their rivalry on March 9.

Reaves claimed that he was jumped, but it should be expected that if you’re going to lay huge questionable hits against Kaiden Guhle, or any player for that matter, you will have to answer the bell. I’m not questioning what Reaves can do, but Xhekaj gave him a crosscheck to the mid-section at center ice, and Reaves just skated off the ice after their first fight. Sure Xhekaj instigated the fight, but the goal is to win the fight and it’s in no way about waiting and giving the opponent an advantage, so rushing Reaves was a great tactic.

Because Xhekaj has worked at rounding out his toolkit and sharpening his skills, it would be better if he didn’t challenge everybody. However, with the territory and portfolio of fights from last year, he will have to mix it up with Nicholas Deslaurier, Kurtis MacDermid and Milan Lucic. I have no doubt that he will handle himself well, but he seems to have evolved his game and could push to play higher in the lineup, so staying out of the box could be beneficial for both him and the team.

Xhekaj continues to look like a brilliant parting gift from Marc Bergevin to Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton. He has old-school elements, that blend extremely well with his new-school style and skills, and the Canadiens are better for it.

From undrafted, to beating the snot out of his opponents, and using his great mobility and shot to earn himself a spot on the power play is a damn impressive story, and I don’t think that he is done yet.

Next. Plethora of Reinforcement Coming Over Next Two Years. dark

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