Montreal Canadiens: Laval Rocket Head Coach Praises Arber Xhekaj

Columbus Blue Jackets v Montreal Canadiens
Columbus Blue Jackets v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

Montreal Canadiens defenseman Arber Xhekaj has taken his American Hockey League demotion on the chin.

The maturity and skill are noticeable right away. But his room for growth is big, and he has been a dream for Laval Rocket head coach JF Houle. It seems that Xhekaj has taken a big step in the development of his game on offence. 

I recently wrote that I felt Justin Barron would benefit from going down to Laval. Houle touched on Barron’s time with Laval and how much offensive potential he possesses. But Houle’s praise was for Xhekaj, the fact that he believes Xhekaj could have higher offensive skills than Barron, is very intriguing to hear.

For an undrafted guy to impact the Canadiens blueline the way he has is beyond impressive. It’s also crazy to think that not even one team sniffed at Xhekaj. I don’t see a scenario where he doesn’t get called up to Montreal before the end of January. 

After being a constant on the Habs blueline before his injury, he has fallen down the depth chart. But his professionalism and acclimation to Laval prove what kind of person he is, he isn’t scared to get his hands dirty and put in the work. Montreal could use his offensive touch and physicality, considering the liberties that opponents have taken on Habs players recently. 

Xhekaj’s growth with the Canadiens has been noticeable and his strong play in Laval isn’t much of a surprise. He is an NHL defenseman, and the sooner he is back in the lineup, the better it will be for the Habs. I generally like to have a right-shot and left-shot defender on each pair, but if there are stronger lefties than righties, you go with the best player. 

Xhekaj is that and I can make a case for him to play ahead of Barron and be right on par with Kovacevic. He is as positionally aware as both of them and his offence is as good, if not better than Barron’s. Both are light years ahead of Kovacevic’s. 

Where Barron takes a step back defensively, whereas Kovacevic and Xhekaj are stout on the backend. Both make quick, smart decisions with the puck consistently. Kovacevic is purely defensive, but Xhekaj isn’t far behind. 

Such a high compliment should help Xhekaj’s already high confidence skyrocket. Which is exactly what we Habs fans want to hear about the big man. If we haven't yet seen him at his best and most confident, then we are certainly in for a treat.