Montreal Canadiens: Arber Xhekaj Is Only 23 Years Old...Let's Collectively Take A Deep Breath

New York Islanders v Montreal Canadiens
New York Islanders v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages
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While every Montreal Canadiens player not named Nick Suzuki was vacationing during the All-Star break, Arber Xhekaj was busy in the lab.

He hasn't played poorly at any point this season, but Adam Nicholas and Martin St. Louis were proactive with his development. Sending him down to Laval for an extended conditioning stint was decided as the best course of action. Xhekaj took it on the chin and alongside Logan Mailloux, the duo powered the Rocket top defence pairing.

The silly narrative that he has played poorly is nonsense, if anything the stint with Laval has shown improvement in his game.

Another notch in Arber's belt is the fact that although he was on cloud nine for much of last year, he hasn't sulked. He continues to work on the little things that will serve him well in the game. Despite suggestions that he has fallen out of favour in La Belle Provence,

Let's not write off Xhekaj before letting him prove himself. He has done a darn good job proving 31 other GMs silly for not taking a flier on him. The late bloomer is no longer a kept secret for the Canadiens. But still very much a player who is developing.

Keeping in mind that he isn't much older than Kaiden Guhle and Jayden Struble, Xhekaj is playing far fewer minutes. Is he as talented as his two left-shot defender teammates? Maybe or maybe not. That doesn't matter though, Struble has seen an increase in his minutes, and his confidence has followed suit.

It's not gone quite the same way for Xhekaj, his minutes have resembled a third-pairing defenseman. And in the grand scheme of the Habs blueline, that is what he appears destined to be. With Mike Matheson and Struble ahead of him on the left side, and Guhle on the top pair right side, there's scarce wiggle room.

Even if another defenseman gets moved, it appears Xhekaj will need to be battle-tested. Jordan Harris hasn't even been mentioned yet and Lane Hutson is on his way. Thankfully Xhekaj isn't one to bet against, so the competition will only bring the best out of No. 72.