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Canadiens Analysis

Montreal Canadiens Contract Options For Prospect Florian Xhekaj

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Montreal Canadiens prospect Florian hekaj

When it comes to prospects, the bulk of the value will be found in the first round for a team like the Montreal Canadiens. Hitting on top picks is an essential aspect of building a contending roster.

But you also want to fill the ranks with depth players who can make a positive impact, and that’s where the mid-round picks come into play.

It’s rare, but once in a while, you can find a hidden gem beyond the first round. Players like Brendan Gallagher (5th round, 2010) and Joshua Roy (5th round, 2021) immediately spring to mind.

This brings us to the latest player to defy the odds despite being drafted later than most NHL players: Florian Xhekaj.

Context Is Everything

Before we delve into Xhekaj’s play this season, we should mention he was older than most of the other players chosen in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft. This mitigates some of the value he brings to the table, as there’s probably less developmental runway left in his case compared to most of his CHL counterparts.

But it would also be foolish to completely ignore the progress made by Xhekaj, even if he turns 20 in roughly two months.

To put it mildly, Florian didn’t just improve his production for the Bulldogs, he blew all expectations out of the water, as is often the case for a player hailing from the Xhekaj family.

In 2022-23, his first year in the OHL, Xhekaj earned 13 goals and 12 assists in 68, an underwhelming level of production.

In 2023-24, Xhekaj scored 34 goals and 31 assists in 63 games, pushing his points-per-game ratio from 0.37 to 1.03.

Another way of putting it is that he went from getting a point from every third game to registering his name on the scoresheet during most outings.

He was given an opportunity and he seized with the type of commanding force we’ve come to expect from a Xhekaj.

His most recent exploit involved scoring two goals to push the Bulldog’s first-round playoff matchup against the Ottawa 67’s to a game seven. The 67’s were victorious in the deciding game, but Xhekaj’s results in the playoffs further confirmed his production probably isn’t a mirage.

Yes, he can handle himself well in heavyweight fights, just like his brother, but when evaluating his play this season one thing was very clear.

On top of scoring in a bevy of ways, he was also scoring the types of goals that you expect to see from high-profile prospects. It wasn’t just a case of scoring garbage goals against smaller opponents.

Options Moving Forward

Given his impressive evolution, the Montreal Canadiens have a few interesting options when it comes to the next step for Xhekaj.

He is still eligible to return to the OHL next season. The Habs could opt to simply give him more time to ply his trade in Junior leagues before pushing him up the organizational depth ladder. There’s really no rush, as the deadline to sign Florian Xhekaj before the Canadiens lose his rights is June 1st, 2025.

They could offer him an amateur tryout (ATO) via the Laval Rocket. This would allow Xhekaj to participate in a few AHL games, while also providing the front office with an opportunity to establish his potential when facing a high-level of opponent. The ATO would also allow him to return to the CHL next season.

The third option would involve the Canadiens offering Xhekaj an entry-level contract (ELC). He would then be available to be loaned to the Laval Rocket, while also maintaining his eligibility to play in the CHL next year. This would not allow Xhekaj to participate in the AHL playoffs if the Rocket were the qualify, as he will have missed the cutoff date.

Following Suit

We may see a repeat of the route taken by Joshua Roy a couple of years ago, which was a combination of two options.

This would lead to an ATO at first, giving Xhejah the option to join the Rocket immediately. It would also mean he could participate in the Calder Cup playoffs since the cutoff date only applies to players on professional contracts. According to the local experts, it would not be surprising to see Xhekaj finish his season in Laval.

Once the audition is over, the Montreal Canadiens can then proceed to offer him an ELC if they so desire, which would only kick in next season.

Regardless of which approach is taken, the mere fact that we’re discussing contract options for a player chosen in the fourth round of last year’s draft is rather encouraging. And while the scouting team deserves some credit for the pick, it’s clear Xhekaj has done everything within the realm of possibility to improve his long-term value to the franchise.