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Habs Prospect Report: Florian Xhekaj Seizing His Opportunity



Montreal Canadiens prospect FLorian Xhekaj

When it comes to Montreal Canadiens prospects, the bulk of the attention has been focused on a few very interesting players.

Prospects such as Owen Beck, Fillip Mesar, Lane Hutson, and Jacob Fowler have certainly played well enough to deserve the praise they’ve received this season, but there’s one player who was chosen in the fourth round of the 2023 NHL Entry Draft that has flown under the radar to a certain degree.

Florian Xhekaj, 19, is in the midst of his breakout season in the OHL, as evidenced by his scoring rate, which has improved significantly from his draft season.

Last season Xhekaj only managed to produce 0.37 points per game while playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs, a somewhat decent, if not underwhelming scoring rate when you consider Xhekaj was older than most players who expected to hear their names called at the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.

But as we’ve come to learn, development is never linear. Some prospects take longer than others to find their rhythm.

And usage also plays a big part.

For example, now that Owen Beck is playing on a team with more talent his scoring pace has skyrocketed. The situation in Saginaw has allowed him to spread his wings in the offensive zone rather than solely focusing on defensive play.

With that in mind, we have to give Xhekaj credit for seizing his opportunity with the Bulldogs.

A promotion to the top six, as well as increased powerplay usage, has resulted in an impressive offensive uptick, to the tune of 0.94 points per game.

Another way of saying it is that Xhekaj almost tripled his production since the Bulldogs moved to Brantford. He’s also shown much more consistency in his game.

As it stands, Xhekaj is enjoying a six-game goal-scoring streak.

Goal Scoring Prowess

There’s always a lot of white noise when analyzing prospect production in the CHL, which means we have to take a closer look at the situation to determine if various prospects are improving, or if they’re simply beating up on weaker, younger opponents.

One of the first numbers that jumps out when evaluating Xhekaj’s season is that he’s taking a lot more shots on net. Last season he only managed a little over one shot per game, whereas he’s hovering near three shots per game this season.

And when you evaluate the footage, it’s clear that Xhekaj isn’t simply standing in the crease waiting for rebounds. He’s shown us ample evidence to suggest that his offensive prowess is based on more than just his size advantage.

Of course, an ugly goal counts the same as an end-to-end effort, but these days, prospects must be able to score in a variety of situations.

And that has certainly been the case for Xhekaj this season.

On top of creating havoc in the crease, Xhekaj has scored his fair share of high-end goals, many of which featured strong individual efforts.

What To Expect From This Montreal Canadiens Prospect

Some will be quick to point to Xhekaj’s age as a reason why fans should mitigate their hopes for an eventual NHL ascension.

Age is a very important factor when evaluating prospects, and there’s no doubt that Xhekaj has benefitted from being older than most players in his draft year.

But even if we compare Xhekaj’s Draft+1 production to the scoring rates we’ve seen from Habs prospects currently in their Draft+2 seasons, the numbers are fairly similar.

Cedrick Guindon, chosen in the fourth round of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, has produced 23 goals and 28 assists in 54 games for the Owen Sound attack this season. Xhekaj, on the other hand, has registered 27 goals and 21 assists in 51 games, leaving both prospects with an identical points-per-game ratio of 0.94.

And when it comes to raw totals, other than Guindon and Owen Beck, no other Habs prospect has managed to register their name on the scoresheet with more regularity than Xhekaj.

This doesn’t mean Xhekaj is destined for NHL greatness, nor does it eventually guarantee a spot in the Montreal Canadiens lineup, but there’s more potential to be found in this player than most, including myself, originally anticipated.

After all, NHL rosters necessitate more than just three good players on the top line.

Any good NHL team will have effective players in their bottom six, and those players must be able to generate a certain level of offence to justify their place in the lineup.

Like any other prospect, there are still a few red flags in Xhekaj’s game. Most notably, he’s scoring on nearly 20 percent of his shots, which points to an unsustainable pace.

But we also have to be realistic when it comes to expectations for a fourth-round pick, and we’d be foolish to ignore the lessons taught by Xhekaj’s brother, Arber.

Underestimate the Xhekaj family at your own risk.