Arber Xhekaj isn’t your ordinary rookie. It’s unlikely he’s even in the NHL, considering he worked at Costco just a year ago. He was ignored in the NHL Draft three times but was signed by the Montreal Canadiens in October 2021.
This season, he finally made his NHL debut, and it was a dream come true and a story unlike any other. Xhekaj was a fighting hero in the OHL and became an immediate fan-favorite in Montreal during the pre-season. Xhekaj blocked shots, chirped superstar opponents, and dropped the gloves.
And he’s continued with all of those things in the NHL. Xhekaj doesn’t play like a rookie, and he certainly doesn’t excuse himself.
And it doesn’t matter who Xhekaj is up against. Radko Gudas is one of the league’s veterans, known for playing a physical game. During the Floridas Panthers and Montreal Canadiens matchup Thursday, Gudko took a run at Canadiens forward Kidby Dach’s knee.
It was late in the third period, with the Panthers up 6-2, and Gudas wasn’t called for a penalty. Post-game, Arber Xhekaj slammed Gudas for not ”answering the bell.”
“He never does. I don’t know what’s up with that guy. He’ll be taking runs at guys’ knees all game. He does play hard, I’ll give it to him. But at some point you’ve gotta show that you’re going to be able to do that,” Xhekaj said, per reporter Eric Engels.
During the game, Xhekaj also got hit on the numbers by Panthers’ Grigori Denisenko. That hit, just like Gudas’ hit, wasn’t called.
“You don’t like that. Obviously, if they call Andy’s penalty on Gudas, it’s a weak call. And then my neck into the boards like that. I get it, I’m a big guy, but you’ve gotta call the game. That’s how it gets out of control…”
During the game, Xhekaj also fought Givani Smith, and it ended with a clear win for Xhekaj.