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The Feel-Good Story of the Habs’ Season: Arber Xhekaj

February 2, 2023, 5:35 PM ET [162 Comments]
Karine Hains
Montreal Canadiens Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Follow me @KarineHains for all updates about the Montreal Canadiens and women's hockey

So much is made these days of players being drafted early or late and of their pedigree or hockey roots, but there are still guys out there that come out of nowhere to surprise you and Arber Xhekaj is one of those guys. An invitee to the Canadiens’ camp in Marc Bergevin’s last year, Xhekaj impressed enough to earn an entry level-contract and put himself on the Canadiens’ faithful radar.

From then on, fans kept an eye on the young defenseman and saw him double his production in his last junior season before riding with the Hamilton Bulldogs all the way to the Memorial Cup, coming up short in the final. Then, at this year’s training camp, he was amongst the pleasant surprises that forced Kent Hughes hand to go with a much-younger blue line that he initially wanted to.

Since the start of the season, he’s found his way to the fan’s heart by landing bone-crushing hits and stepping up for any teammates who has needed him. There’s a new sheriff in town and the Bell Centre is loving it. Since Nicolas Deslauriers was sent packing, the Canadiens haven’t really had a bona fide though guy but they do now in Xhekaj. Even better, the guy can actually play.

49 games into his NHL career, he’s already gathered 13 points and managed to find his way to the Canadiens’ 2nd power play. Sure, the Habs power play is hardly a well-oiled powerful machine, but still, his ability to move the puck and pick his spot when it’s time to get the puck to net caught the eye of the coaching staff.

What’s not to like? Not a whole lot really, who doesn’t love a good underdog story? And that’s exactly what Xhekaj and his family are. Both of his parents were immigrants who came to Canada with next to nothing to their name but wanted a better life for themselves. His mum was from then Czechoslovakia while his dad is Albanian, they met and a few years later, little Arber was born. Fast forward 22 years and after putting in a lot of work and never giving up, he’s fulfilled his dream of playing in the NHL and he’s becoming a fan favourite.

Only in Montreal would the warm-up used stick of a third pairing defenseman raise over 500$ in an auction. That’s right, Xhekaj’s stick from the “Hockey en parle” night went for a whooping 530$. In comparison, Canadiens’ captain stick Nick Suzuki sold for 510$. Xhekaj was second only to team’s sniper Cole Caufield who’s stick went for 1500$.

If you want to learn a little bit more about Xhekaj, I suggest you check out the latest 32 Thoughts: the podcast as Sportsnet has put the uncut version of Elliotte Friedman’s interview with the young defenseman and his family on there: After the Horn: Arber Xhekaj – 32 thoughts: The Podcast
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