« It’s never a bad thing if people talk about you » -Arber Xhekaj

Growing up, Arber Xhekaj looked to Drew Doughty and PK Subban as blueline inspirations. Pavel Datsyuk, however, remained his favorite player for his fast hands.

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As he got older, Xhekaj drew inspiration from defenders who fit more into his mould, like Ben Chiarot and Jake Muzzin.

At 6’4″ and 238lbs, Xhekaj is a big guy. At the rookie tournament in Buffalo, the 21-year-old defenseman also showed his mean side with hard-hitting body checks and a fierce fight against former Shawinigan Cataractes defenseman Zachary Massicotte, a guest at the Ottawa Senators rookie camp. ‘Ottawa.

« It’s never a bad thing if people talk about you, » Xhekaj said today. I know the Senators weren’t happy with my game, but I just played with great intensity and with my heart. »

“I have to play my style. I showed the organization that I can hold my own in a battle. But I know they don’t just look at that. If I have to defend a teammate, I will. However, there is much more to my game. I’m not just a strong defender, I read the game well and I can get the attack going again. »

Arber Xhekaj

A clear objective

Never drafted, Xhekaj signed a contract with the Canadian in October 2021 after participation in the rookie camp and the real camp of the team. Since that day, the native of Hamilton, Ontario has never stopped climbing the ladder. He is now one of the very bright hopes of the organization.

Within the next few days, he will find himself in a fight with Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, Justin Barron and Corey Schueneman for the last three available positions on the blue line.

“I have remained calm since the start of the camp, I do not feel too nervous, he replied. I will play where the Canadiens ask me to. I will do my best in Laval or Montreal. But my real goal is to become a regular defenseman in the NHL with the Canadiens. »

In the stands for the initial preseason game against the Devils, Xhekaj played a first game against the Maple Leafs.

« I will play in front of my family and friends, » he said today before the game. Toronto is not even an hour from my hometown. This is the team I watched in my youth. It will be a special evening. »

While he looked like a man against kids at times during camp in Buffalo, Xhekaj expects a different reality against more experienced players.

“Yes, it will be different. I will have to control myself a little more. I won’t be able to run on the ice and try to rip off a rival’s head. I will need to stay calm. If I look too hard for checking, I can also get burned. Players are faster, smarter, stronger and they can also avoid contact more easily. But I will remain the same physical defender. »

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Offensive Skills

Xhekaj has already built his reputation with his tough game, but he also has offensive skills.

In his 20-year season in the Ontario Junior League, he had 16 points (6 goals, 10 assists) in 18 playoff games with the Hamilton Bulldogs. He finished the season with 34 points (12 goals, 22 assists) in 51 games with the Kitchener Rangers and Bulldogs. He also maintained a +44 differential.


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