Montreal Canadiens: Florian Xhekaj Greatly Increased Production In Second OHL Season

Hamilton Bulldogs v Windsor Spitfires
Hamilton Bulldogs v Windsor Spitfires / Dennis Pajot/GettyImages

When the Montreal Canadiens selected Florian Xhekaj in the fourth round of the 2023 draft, it came as somewhat of a surprise.

Xhekaj had an alright rookie year in the Ontario Hockey League with the Brampton Bulldogs in the 2022-23. In 68 games, the Hamilton, Ontario native had 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists). There were signs of a physical power forward in the making, but the production was a question mark.

In year two, however, it seems that those questions have been answered, emphatically. Xhekaj has still been every bit as pesky, chippy and scrappy as his rookie season, but he has undergone tremendous growth. In 35 fewer games, Xhekaj has bested his previous point totals by two, with 27 in 33 games.

Junior stats don't always translate, but with Xhekaj, he had already proven that he could play well away from the puck. He is a menace in front of the net and he loves to create the screen in front of the net while keeping his stick free for deflections. When he parks himself in his office, he isn't very easy to move and he is only going to continue maturing physically.

It appears that he had a huge summer - that consisted of power skating, lifting weights and shooting pucks. He is explosive and when he finds open space, his lanky frame and strength serve him well in the puck protection game. On December 30 against the Barrie Colts, Xhekaj got off to a quick start, scoring the fastest goal game-opening goal for the Bulldogs this year, just 12 seconds in.

He also showed off his poise during a sequence against the North Bay Battalion on Thursday night. Xhekaj's second-period tally showed off his patience, poise and a twisted wrister. I keep undervaluing Xhekaj, but every time the Bulldogs play, he seems to do something else that makes me question his future potential.

Ideally, Xhekaj will develop into a nasty fourth-line centre for the Habs, giving the Canadiens some great depth down the middle. There is still plenty of hockey to play and we're not even going to get into the centre situation in Montreal when everybody is healthy. But the way Xhekaj has shown this year, I think he is close to ready, but like Owen Beck, he has a late birthday, which will keep him out of Laval until, at minimum next June.

Xhekaj is coming along at the perfect time and he still has another full year to develop, learn and develop a more offensive game. I think he could likely play in Laval right now and be a good player. So his age might just play into his favour - as soon as he turns 20, he will be ready - and Laval could use some added sandpaper in their lineup.

At six-foot-four 200 pounds, Xhekaj is a specimen like his older brother, but he seems to have found his offence quicker than the elder Xhekaj. The Canadiens have some nice pieces coming through, which will serve the roster's depth well. For a team to stay strong and consistent, the strength of their depth could reign very important, especially when the team is competitive enough for a deep Stanley Cup run.