Xhekaj & Roy Beneficiaries Of Habs Development Staff

Ottawa Senators v Montreal Canadiens
Ottawa Senators v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

The Montreal Canadiens are working towards being competitive, and abolishing the ‘rebuild’ tag thanks to their development team.

It’s evident from the ascension to the top line for Juraj Slafkovsky that they are cooking. He looks like a different player, and the coaching staff have their prints all over his success. So it’s no coincidence that other players are showing tremendous growth.

On Wednesday night against the Buffalo Sabres; Martin St. Louis would have liked a stronger defensive effort, especially through the neutral zone. But two players had impressive performances, which is important because of their place in the grand scheme. What I mean by that is: that they are trying to establish themselves as regulars in the lineup.

One, Joshua Roy is making his case for a permanent role in the Habs top nine and his emphatic performance against the Sabres is sure to help. Defensively, he has set a standard for himself as a reliable two-way presence and that didn’t waiver. But his confidence is noticeable; the little things that he did right in the AHL have begun to shine through in his game.

The second player, who has also been noticeable since returning to the lineup is Arber Xhekaj. His stint with the Laval Rocket, following his injury has been a blessing, in that he is more confident in his offensive game. Most impressive is how his defensive game hasn’t taken a backseat, it has looked more polished. 

Both players factored in on the Canadiens' two tallies against Buffalo. Xhekaj scored the opening goal of the game, with his third of the season. A bomb of a shot that was made possible by Roy and a brilliant one-handed pass.

Roy had two assists - his first career two-point game - to go along with six shots. Positionally he looked like he was thinking a few steps ahead; forcing turnovers and he nearly tied the game with a brilliant aggressive forecheck effort. He stripped the puck from the opposition and was inches away from capitalizing on his hard work. 

Although the Sabres won the affair 3-2, the game’s second and third start respectively, were two bright spots. It’s more about being consistent and showing up every night than having a good game. But Xhekaj and Roy have been stringing together strong efforts - one after the other - which warrants positive attention. 

Roy hasn’t been forcing anything, letting the game come to him and it has paid off. Xhekaj is more of the same but for a different reason. Just like Roy didn’t abandon his assignments to make plays, Xhekaj didn’t hunt for hits; instead, he let them come to him. 

Neither player lets up and that is a huge reason for their success. Even though they look more comfortable, they haven’t become complacent. Player development is going to be a big strength of the Canadiens rebuild, so the strong play from No. 89 & 72 is stride in the right direction.