What does Arber Xhekaj have in store for year 3?

Arber Xhekaj has suffered shoulder injuries that ended his season for the last two years. But with two healthy shoulders, what should we expect for him in 2024-25?
Carolina Hurricanes v Montreal Canadiens
Carolina Hurricanes v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

Arber Xhekaj took the Montreal Canadiens by storm, both his teammates and the fans didn’t know what to expect.

But he didn’t exactly leave much to the imagination; as soon as he hit the ice for the preseason in 2022, he asserted himself. Physicality and fisticuffs were the focal point of his game and, while they served him well, his abrasive style shortened his rookie season. Habs management knew they had something special but he would do more damage in the lineup than in the pressbox.

Year two was one of immense growth for Xhekaj; with a focus on rounding out his defensive play. Gap control, defensive stick positioning and deciding when to pick his spots were focal points. His stint with the Laval Rocket seemed to remedy his deficiencies and he sharpened his offensive tools. 

Unfortunately, his sophomore season was cut short due to another shoulder injury. This time it was the opposite shoulder of the one that was surgically repaired in year one. But with his season cut short, Xhekaj has a long offseason to prepare for his third season. 

I would assume that the expectations he has set for himself are higher than the ones fans have for him. But the main focus should be to play a full 82 games, because not only is he effective, but it’s essential for his development.  There have been rumblings and suggestions about trading Xhekaj, but this style of player doesn’t grow on trees. 

Despite his age - because he was a late bloomer - it’s hard to determine what his ceiling might look like. Because he hasn’t hit his prime yet, I would like to believe that there is another level or two for him to go. I think a physical, shutdown defender with 8-10 goal potential is realistic and because his breakout passes are efficient, he could be a perennial 15-20 assist potential player. 

It’s so tough to gauge what a player's production might look like, for the elite players. But players who are still finding their way can be even more unpredictable. Xhekaj is the perfect case; though we might think he may never have a 40-point season, he could shock everyone and do it for the next 10 years. It’s unlikely, I know that, but the Habs aren’t a finished product, so there is still plenty of talent to be added.

Furthermore, line configurations could change and Xhekaj might get more playing time with skilled forwards. But to play it safe, I think a goal for Xhekaj would be to hit 25-30 points. Doing so without sacrificing his defensive matchups would be a coach’s dream.