Arber Xhekaj has quickly become one of the most popular players in the NHL. One year ago, not many people had ever heard of him. Even this summer, few people would’ve guessed he was going to play in the NHL this autumn.
Now, he’s perhaps the most talked about player in the NHL.
Xhekaj doesn’t have a background like most players in the league. Xhekaj was ignored three times at the NHL Draft but got signed by the Montreal Canadiens in October 2021. He signed a three-year, two-way contract and was loaned out to the Kitchener Rangers last season.
This summer, he showed how much he wanted to be in the NHL during the pre-season games, as he blocked shots, took fights, chirped star players, and played great hockey.
His place in the Canadiens NHL roster was well-deserved, and so far, he’s been looking great. Xhekaj’s popularity in the league increased big time when he destroyed Zack Kassian in a fight that got a lot of attention.
Xhekaj is an inspiration for all young players, especially those who get ignored in the NHL Draft. For a long time, things were looking dark for Xhekaj as well.
He played zero games in the 2020-21 season, with the OHL canceled due to the pandemic. That’s also why Xhekaj worked at Costco just two years ago, to afford to attend summer development camps.
Per The Athletic, Xhekaj stocked shelves, collected shopping carts outsides, and worked the cash. He didn’t give up on his dream, but his Costco manager was getting tired of him running late.
“I did have a lot of late because I was coming from hockey,” Xhekaj said, per the Athletic. “Yeah, I told them, I would text them like, ‘Hey I’m running a little late, coming from hockey.’ It’s tough to go home, eat and buzz to work. Sometimes I was late, but (my manager) said I was leading all employees in lates.
“She was mad that I had hockey and I wasn’t making Costco more of a priority. I don’t think she fully understood what level I was at.”
After leaving Costco, Xhekaj was also building tennis courts with his brother. He did it all so he could afford to play hockey.
Xhekaj was on the Canadiens’ draft list in 2021, but they passed. Months later, the Canadiens reached out and offered him a contract.“I was convinced,” Lapointe said. “They don’t make guys like him anymore.”
And the rest is history.
When the Canadiens played the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday, Xhekaj scored his second goal in his NHL career and had almost 20 minutes TOI. We haven’t seen the last of him, and we sure hope we haven’t seen the last of players like him. What an inspiration.