Arber Xhekaj Toning Down The Fisticuffs Is For The Best

New York Ranger rookie could benefit from the Habs bruising defenceman

Montreal Canadiens v Pittsburgh Penguins
Montreal Canadiens v Pittsburgh Penguins / Pamela Smith/GettyImages

When Montreal Canadiens undrafted rookie Arber Xhekaj entered the league, his willingness to fight at a moment’s notice drew the opponent's attention.

Whether negative or positive, Xhekaj established himself with his fists. He would pit himself out of position to throw devastating hits and often took ill-advised penalties. But he showed signs of his skill, and presumably Martin St. Louis saw glimpses of what he could become.

It became increasingly obvious that Xhekaj could hurt the opponents more easily on the ice than in the penalty box after a fight. This year, Matt Rempe, another big, bruising player is following a similar path to Xhekaj, fighting every chance he gets. Xhekaj met his match with Vincent Desharnais when he injured his shoulder.

Rempe has thrown a questionable hit on Nathan Bastian and hung toe-to-toe with Nicholas Deslauriers, one of the league’s premiere enforcers. He also challenged Mathieu Olivier in a fight that saw him get a few blows to his head, which raised eyebrows. 

There is no question that he can handle himself, but like Xhekaj before him, if he continued fighting every game - it would all but guarantee a shortened shelf life.

It would be a good idea for the New York Rangers coaching staff to encourage him to choose his battles better. There is a place for fighting in the game, but fighting just for fame, is not so much. Rempe’s 6 foot 7 frame and physical style, if managed properly, could be effective on the forecheck and backcheck and his wingspan is ideal for breaking up plays. 

He has done enough in a short span to prove that he can hang with the heavyweights. Now it would be good for him to go back to the roots that earned him an NHL role. It would be awful for a rookie to play just one season and be done due to head injuries. 

It’s taken a bit of time for Xhekaj to establish himself as more than just a meathead player who throws caution to the wind. But the patience and hard work have paid off, and Xhekaj has developed into a strong two-way defenseman who continues to grow. Rempe didn’t simply make the NHL because of his mammoth fists, so going back to what has made him successful would benefit the play and his club.

I’m not suggesting not fighting again, he is good at it and I’m sure other fighters have taken notice. But a player like Chris Kreider, although an enemy in Montreal, would be an ideal mentor for Rempe. Kreider’s power forward game would be a perfect fit for Rempe and the Rangers sure wouldn’t complain about having two big powerful forwards.

While he has never been a prolific scorer, but there are no rosters throughout the league with 12 scoring forwards. His effectiveness goes beyond the scoresheet and he is a massive presence, who could be used as a screen on the power play. And he could make a living in and around the crease à la Gallagher.