Montreal Canadiens Rookie Xhekaj Getting Second Chance at Hockey

Arber Xhekaj #72, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
Arber Xhekaj #72, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) /

Montreal Canadiens rookie defenseman Arber Xhekaj has a story unlike any hockey story leading to his NHL rookie campaign. One that will have you rooting for him and praising his dedication.

Montreal Canadiens Xhekaj finding hockey enjoyable again

Xhekaj had played junior hockey in the OHL for the Kitchener Rangers from the 2018/19 season until the 2021/22 season when he was dealt to the Hamilton Bulldogs and finished his OHL career with Hamilton. Then he took a back seat to hockey, not sure where his future was headed and maybe his future was without hockey. After all, he went undrafted twice and as a youngster maybe began to think the NHL was not for him.

With his hockey future in doubt, he went another route. This route first led him to work at Costco, doing everything under the sun to make an honest living. He then began building tennis courts and things were going well. He was making his time away from hockey spent doing things to help others and put money in his pocket. He did this throughout the 2021/22 hockey season. Then his life turned around for the best.

His hockey urge came back and, after attending the Canadiens training camp, he was signed to his first pro contract, with the Montreal Canadiens, on October 4, 2021. This contract runs through the 2023-24 season and he may have earned both a raise and an extension based on his play this season. At first, it was his fighting that brought eyes to Xhekaj. However, people also began to notice his overall play and knew he was an NHL player. Asides from his fighting he does play a physical style but is good in all three zones. He does block out well in front of his own net, wins board battles, blocks shots, and hits, and gets the puck out in a quick manner with a quick outlet pass.

Another reason he stands out is his size. At 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, he is an imposing figure. He is also a player that the Canadiens desperately needed. The Canadiens have not had a big defenseman on their roster in a while that can do all of the things that Xhekaj can do. At his size, he is a mobile defenseman that can skate the length of the ice and take a chance offensively. This season, Xhekaj has four goals and four assists for eight points and 63 penalty minutes in 29 games played. His 63 penalty minutes lead the NHL.

Arber Xhekaj may not be the only Xhekaj in the NHL for much longer. His younger brother, Florian, plays for the OHL Hamilton Bulldogs just like Arber used to. The 18-year-old Florian, who is 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, has 16 goals and nine assists for 25 points, along with 113 penalty minutes, in 68 games with the Bulldogs. Florian is more offensive but has the same grit and physical style that Arber plays with.

Arber Xhekaj is a name hockey fans should remember. His dedication to the game of hockey and not giving up should be remembered. Yes, he can fight and has an unusual nickname (WiFi) but he has to be remembered for so much more. He is playing excellent hockey and playing a solid defensive game for a team that is not where they want to be. He has already had an excellent season, even if the Canadiens miss the playoffs. His story should be shared as it is a story that one does not hear every day. One that brings success after failures.