Xhekaj is a tough old-school physical defenseman. While he does have some skill and is a good skater for his size, his niche in the NHL – if he makes it – will be as a physically-dominant defensive defenseman, with a limited offensive ceiling. He would be an especially intriguing add in any league using hits and PIMs, as he puts up a tonne of both.
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April 2022 – Xhekaj signed an entry-level contract with the Canadiens in October 2021, following strong rookie and training camps with the team on a tryout. He more than fit Marc Bergevin’s vision of his defensive corps – a huge and physical minute-muncher – and was likely viewed as a potential Ben Chiarot successor. Xhekaj is among the OHL’s strongest and most punishing players, and he has the penalty minutes to show for it, with 136 through 50 games. This reveals Xhekaj’s greatest fault and hurdle in making it to the NHL: discipline. He is a surprisingly skilled player for a hulking undrafted defenseman: he can rush the puck from one end to the other if given space and has the hands and vision to outmaneuver opposing defenders. While the execution of his passes requires more refinement, the vision he demonstrates as well as his scanning habits both with and without the puck give him a decent ceiling as a puck mover. Xhekaj is also a solid skater; he generates good speed after three or four strides and has the four-way mobility to be able to quickly adapt to even the more complex odd-man rushes engineered by the OHL’s top talents. He has the talent to one day make it to the NHL, and he tilts the ice in the right direction when he is on it, but the problem is that he is so often in the penalty box for needless aggressive penalties, often a result of his short fuse. The upward trajectory in his development will plateau if he does not find a way to add an element of discipline to his game and eliminate most of the unnecessary infractions he takes. Despite all this, Xhekaj is a highly-entertaining player to watch and he will join the Laval Rocket following the Hamilton Bulldogs’ playoff run, and he could even see his first professional action this season. If he finds his niche in the AHL and can minimize the effects of his Achilles heel, he could develop into a reliable and entertaining fifth defenseman for the Canadiens within two or three years. Sebastian High