11th ranked U24 Habs player - Arber Xhekaj

Arber Xhekaj took a big step in year two; using his physicality for good and his mobility to create and assist his forwards. There is more than meets the eye with the bruising defender.
Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens
Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

For the month of May, aside from the NHL Draft lottery, there isn’t much going on. So here at A Winning Habit, I’ve decided to rank the 24 best Canadiens under 24 years old. I opted to rank players that are closest to the NHL, so aside from David Reinbacher, there are no 2023 Draftees. 

So, without further ado, let’s go ahead with the 11th best player, in my opinion, Arber Xhekaj.

Arber Xhekaj has been one of the most polarizing Canadiens players, since his arrival in La Belle Province. He started by throwing massive hits and punching through opponent's helmets, the ones who he didn't bruise their faces. Then showing glimpses of his lateral mobility on the blueline, his vision and heavy shot slowly crept in as well.

That was just his rookie season, then year two was a big one featuring growth and maturing. Xhekaj learned to pick his battles since he became more important on the ice than sitting in the penalty box for fighting. Next up was his defending, which he often did with a big hit, but after some time in the American Hockey League, Xhekaj was positioning himself better, which utilized his great reach to disrupt the opposition's bid for the net.

Now, since it's been made clear that Kent Hughes will likely move a defender or two out to acquire a forward, teams have been calling about Xhekaj. Hughes's answer has been an emphatic no, he has listened to all offers but isn't keen on moving the behemoth defenseman. Can you blame him, many teams seek out a player that can impact the game the way Arber does and they don't simply give up that player.

Xhekaj might not be the best defensive player and he may not score the most goals of all the Habs defenders. But he does a little bit of everything and you can't teach size, nor the ability to operate from the blueline the way he does, considering his size. Xhekaj ranks as the 11th best player, which in itself is impressive because he was undrafted, and then made his NHL debut soon after.

The Sheriff is here to stay and there are little signs that point to him being finished developing, which means that there could be a little more for him to add to his game. With the talent ahead of him, it will be difficult for him to climb up the list. But, it isn't out of the question, since Hughes could be moving out a player or two during this offseason.