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Habs Prospects

Habs Mailbag: Xhekaj’s Partner, Alex Burrows’ Work, Slafkovsky



Montreal Canadiens defenceman Arber Xhekaj

Welcome back to another off-season edition of the Montreal Canadiens mailbag!

I’d like to start this mailbag by thanking Canadiens fans because they were once again quick to answer the call when I asked for their help submitting questions.

There were too many great questions to answer this week, which means we’ll be releasing a second edition of the mailbag later in the week to cover all the queries.

This week we discuss the Alex Burrows powerplay situation, Juraj Slafkovsky’s future, Arber Xhekaj’s ideal defensive partner, the top Habs prospects, and much more.

Let’s dive right into it!


I think we need to clarify something about the Canadiens’ woeful power play. While Alex Burrows certainly plays a big part, head coach Martin St-Louis also provides input for the man advantage, which means the burden of failure does not fall solely on Burrows’ shoulders.

St-Louis even mentioned the powerplay needed more shots from the point if it was to evolve into a sustainable method of creating scoring chances, a rather worrying suggestion given that point shots are far from the best way to score on the power play.

You want lots of puck movement, which, in turn, should lead to the opposing goaltender resetting constantly. And as we all know, a moving goalie is a vulnerable goalie. Once the pre-shot movement does its part, shots need to be taken from high-danger areas.

On that note, given that St-Louis has done a good job at the helm of the Canadiens’ bench, I think we can forgive him for not exactly rising to the occasion to cover for Burrows.

As for the actual question, let’s put it this way. If the Canadiens can fire head athletic therapist Graham Rynbend after two years in which the team led the league in man-games lost, something that was mostly out of his control, they can definitely fire Burrows after two years of underwhelming results on the power play, something that is absolutely in his control.


This is the easiest question I’ve received in a long time.

The answer is obvious.

M&M’s are superior in every single metric, including variety, which includes the best version, M&M’s Peanut.

I think we’re done here.

Oh, wait, the other question!

Unless the Montreal Canadiens suddenly decided Juraj Slafkovsky is actually not ready to play in the NHL, which would be a shocking decision considering they decided to keep him in the NHL rather than sending him to the World Junior Championships or the AHL last season, Slafkovsky is essentially guaranteed to start the year in Montreal.

However, if things go horribly wrong, an AHL assignment could be in the cards.

What matters most is finding him consistent linemates and consistent minutes in situations that are conducive to scoring.

This is a very difficult choice.

I assume Oppenheimer would be excellent on offence, which, in turn, would make his presence valuable defensively. He certainly takes a cerebral approach to most things, but his character leaves something to be desired. You don’t want one of your stars quoting the Bhagavad-Gita on a daily basis, especially if it involves calling themselves the “destroyer of worlds”.

Whereas Barbie is incredibly versatile, which allows her to adapt to almost any situation, and she has a long history of improving people’s lives.

I guess it really comes down to which one of them can play on the right side of the defence.

It will be very difficult for Simoneau to earn a job with the Canadiens due to the logjam among forwards and the fact that he’s already 22 years old.

That being said, given that head coach Martin St-Louis tends to gravitate toward players who provide an honest effort every shift, Simoneau has an ace up his sleeve.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of watching Simoneau in the AHL, he’s the hockey equivalent of a wolverine, in that he doesn’t mind attacking much bigger and stronger mammals whenever he gets the chance. He also had very encouraging underlying numbers during his first season playing professional hockey.

On top of it, he does a great job driving opponents up the wall without taking too many penalties, which means he’s a net positive when it comes to the all-mighty penalty differential.

He’s what I would consider a dark horse candidate when it comes to the players that could crack the lineup in the near future.


Thanks to all the post-draft interviews with the scouting team, it’s starting to become clear that the Canadiens never seriously considered drafting Matvei Michkov with the fifth overall pick.

Seeing as Reinbacher was their consensus pick as the best player available, they better hope he becomes an impact player in the NHL, or you’ll hear an endless chorus of people pointing out that Michkov was available when the Canadiens made their pick.

Thankfully, Reinbacher does project to be a very good player, so now we just have to play the waiting game.

Hot take: Joshua Roy will make the team out of camp due to his versatility, offensive instincts, and strong defensive awareness.

Slightly less hot take that has more to do with a technicality than a prediction: Owen Beck has the best odds of making the team out of camp due to the archaic CHL-NHL agreement. He can only play in the OHL or NHL this season. That may lead to an extended audition.

Boring take: There’s no room for surprises at camp this year.

Inspired take: Once Kent Hughes trades Mike Hoffman, Joel Armia, and Christian Dvorak, there will be ample room in the lineup for surprises.

My standard answer to this question is Adam Engstrom.

The Canadiens have a boatload of talented defensive prospects, but given Engstrom’s skillset and recent success in the SHL, we should not bet against him.

However, I’ll try to add a modicum of originality by also mentioning Jakub Dobes.

I’m still not sure it was the right decision to sign him to an early entry-level contract. More than anything, that was the Canadiens attempting to shore up their defensive depth in both the AHL and NHL.

However, Dobes’ play with Ohio State in the NCAA painted a very encouraging picture when it comes to his potential. He was a dominant presence on most nights, and he has the type of wingspan and frame that usually works out well for NHL goaltenders.

He’s still quite young and his professional career is yet to begin in earnest, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Dobes finds a decent amount of success with the Laval Rocket this season.


I’d say that any of the young players in the defensive lineup would produce fairly good results alongside Xhekaj. His numbers only really suffered once he was paired with Joel Edmundson or David Savard.

He also saw a downtick in results when he was dealing with a busy fight card.

If we want to get into the nitty-gritty of it, Xhekaj was at his best when he was paired with either Kaiden Guhle or Jonathan Kovacevic, though we’re dealing with very limited sample sizes.

Surprisingly, he did not have great numbers with Jordan Harris, unlike the rest of the defensive group. I wouldn’t put that experiment to rest just yet, though. Harris’ style of play should complement Xhekaj’s.

As for the second question, I’d say at this point that we’re probably closer to overrating Xhekaj than underrating him. I agree that he has grit, speed, good hands, and an underrated skill set, but even the most bullish projections have him as a third-pairing defenceman that needs to curtail his penalties to make a significant positive impact.

And that’s absolutely fine.

Teams need good bottom-pairing players to succeed in the NHL.

It’s also worth pointing out that Xhekaj is legitimately fun to watch. He brings an element to the table that few others in Canadiens history have managed to provide.

Personally, I’d argue that he adds more excitement to Canadiens games than almost any other player, and there’s value there. The NHL is in the entertainment business, after all.

This is an interesting question.

I was ready to quickly say yes, but after giving it some thought, it will be very close. If we ignore his injuries, Dach scored at a 53-point, 82-game pro-rated pace last year.

A slight uptick in scoring wouldn’t be shocking.

But if he’s being used as a centre on the second line rather than a winger on the top line, he’ll have a harder time generating scoring chances. More defensive responsibilities come with the territory when you’re a centre.

And then there’s the whole health issue, which is a lot more random than we’d like to admit.

I’ll go out on a limb and say no, Dach will not earn 60 points this year, but he will hit the 60-point mark in the very near future. Perhaps even the following season.

Zelko is asking how old I was when the picture I use on Twitter was taken.

According to my calculations, I was roughly three decades away from winning the most important race of my life, which also happened to be the only race I am yet to win.

Though I did finish second at the 1989 Ontario Terry Fox Fun Run final. That has to count for something.


Platypuses have absolutely no redeeming qualities.

They’re what happens when god spills an animal.

Don’t get me started on how it’s a mammal that also lays eggs. Sure, some anteaters also lay eggs, but that’s just the tip of the weird iceberg that is the platypus.

First off, they don’t have nipples. Or a stomach.

Or teeth.

And then we have to consider that they spend the majority of their time in the water, yet they keep their eyes closed whenever they’re in their preferred environment.

Their fur is bio-fluorescent, they track prey in the same manner as sharks, and their duck-shaped bill is actually soft, with a similar texture to a disappointing late-night soft-shell taco run, which is incredibly unsettling.

To top it all off, these drunken animal prototypes are venomous, but their stingers are only found on their back legs because they use their front legs to swim, like a dog.

If we allowed AI to create our fauna, the first thing it would spit out would be the platypus, which, hopefully, would then be rejected by humanity for being an unholy creation that would bring nothing but chaos to a world that is already overly chaotic.