There are a lot of important questions to be answered about Arber Xhekaj at this point in the season. So, here’s a no-nonsense article I hope will answer most of them.
Question 1: We all know the Sherrif likes to hit, but how much?
According to Natural Stat Trick, he has the fourth most hits per 60 in the NHL at 5v5. Living up to his moniker, he’s basically a thug with a badge.... except for not having a badge (see; Wyatt Earp, Bill Hickok, etc).
Truly the sort of guy you love on your team but despise if he plays for anyone else.
Arber Xhekaj committing elder abuse on Michael Bunting pic.twitter.com/lvLDny1pQB— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 4, 2022
Question 2: Does he drive possession?
At 5v5 he has the second-best Corsi For percentage of defencemen on the Montreal Canadiens. That’s pretty good. What’s even more impressive is that he has the fourth-best Corsi of all rookie defencemen in the NHL.
Question 3: How’s his deployment?
Frankly, this one is a bit of a mixed bag. Xhekaj has the second-lowest time on ice per game played (at 5v5) of any Montreal defenceman. Typically this suggests he’s facing weaker competition.
What causes doubt in this theory is that it seems like Martin St-Louis is trying to get fairly even deployment. The disparity between Xhekaj’s time on ice at 5v5 (14:31 per game) compared to David Savard leading the team playing 18:38 is not that much.
Arber Xhekaj, the sheriff, scores his first NHL goal with a snap shot from the point. pic.twitter.com/KIvffTH6Vi— Matt Drake (@DrakeMT) October 23, 2022
Question 4: How much defensive responsibility is he taking on?
In short, not much. He ranks 5/6 for most defensive zone draws per 60. The only defenceman who starts less in the defensive zone is Chris Wideman.
Question 5: Can he beat the snot out of former Habs great Zach Kassian?
ARBER XHEKAJ JUST SENT ZACK KASSIAN TO THE SHADOW REALM pic.twitter.com/WNTb78e375— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 20, 2022
The bottom line here is that there is not one single point of concern. The low ice time and defensive zone draws can be chalked up to sheltering a rookie defenceman. Something that, if you can, you should do (unfortunately for Kaiden Guhle, that’s not been an option).
Obviously, this early in his career, it’s hard to make a true comparable but he reminds me a lot of Radko Gudas. A physical player who is also smart and has put up decent advanced metrics throughout most of his career.
And, I leave you all with one question; How did the sheriff go undrafted?