Montreal Canadiens: Why Struble Leapfrogged Xhekaj

Montreal Canadiens v Vegas Golden Knights
Montreal Canadiens v Vegas Golden Knights / Ethan Miller/GettyImages
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Montreal Canadiens fans have been torn, questioning Martin St. Louis’ decision to keep Arber Xhekaj in the NHL. 

But Jayden Struble’s place in the scheme of things hasn’t been question. It’s fairly obvious that both players have tremendous room for growth. While Arber is in Laval now, it’s with specific goals and things to work on - not as punishment. 

Struble, developmentally is ahead of Xhekaj, and this has nothing to do with talent. Now hear me out, I am not saying Xhekaj is better than Struble, nor am I saying the opposite. Neither of them have reached their ceiling yet. 

Struble is ahead developmentally, simply because of where he played. In the NCAA with Northeastern University, Struble played against guys as old as 23-24 years old. His matchups were difficult and he had to adapt to playing against big, strong and talented players that could burn with their speed. 

It’s not to discredit Xhekaj at all I believe that Xhekaj has already benefitted from his stint with the Rocket. Arber came up through the Ontario Hockey League ranks, and often he was the biggest and strongest on the ice. Yes, he is a physical specimen, but in college hockey, his game could have undergone much bigger improvements because of his matchups.

Xhekaj Has Cemented Himself On Laval Top Defence Pair

While Arber is missed in Montreal, we can’t act as though he isn’t thriving. Playing huge minutes down with the Rocket has been significant for the Sheriffs development. Offensively he has taken significant strides - he has put his ice time on the man advantage to good use. 

Alongside Logan Mailloux, the pair have leaned on each other and the emergence of a solid duo is on the rise. The Canadiens brass righfully want him back in Montreal, and so do I, but keeping No. 72 and 24 together on Laval’s top pair only helps the young defenders. There is little doubt in my mind that he is ready to come back. 

Martin St. Louis, however, knew that Xhekaj had a little more to give and that the increased ice time in Laval would iron out the wrinkles in his game. More time with the puck on his stick, and being relied upon to provide offence has given Xhekaj the space and confidence to shoot more and create offence. The move has helped Xhekaj and Mailloux, and given Struble an opportunity to prove himself with the Habs after a strong start to his professional career down in Laval. 

While we patiently await the news that Xhekaj has been called up, we can rest assured that he is cooking in the AHL with his buddy Logan. I must say, it’s nice to see Mailloux doing so well, and both he and Arber learning and growing together. Which leads me to the next player - Jayden Struble.