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Catching The Torch: Owen Beck taking off in Saginaw, Daniil Sobolev joins Florian Xhekaj in Brantford

Welcome back to Catching The Torch, where we keep up with the Montreal Canadiens’ CHL prospects and how their development is progressing week by week.

With the CHL’s trade deadline in the rearview mirror, two Canadiens prospects saw their allegiance change and their playoff hopes improve. Most prominently, Owen Beck was traded to the Saginaw Spirit, who loaded up in preparation for their Memorial Cup run as they get ready to host a tournament featuring the best teams in the CHL. Daniil Sobolev was also moved the day before the deadline, joining fellow Habs prospect Florian Xhekaj in Brantford and bolstering its defensive core.

We’ll take a look at their performances with their new teams, evaluating their fit within their respective rosters and how their development could potentially be affected. We’ll also glance over at Xhekaj’s form and break down how recent roster changes could affect his game.

Owen Beck

Instant synergy

Acquired from Peterborough for forward Aiden Young, two second-round picks, and one third-round selection in the OHL priority draft, Beck’s main challenge was to find a way to develop some chemistry with his new teammates, get some solid shifts in early with them, and find himself some stability in the top six. Immediately, Beck was placed with Josh Bloom on a second line, and the pair developed a system that works well for both of them.

As a result, Beck finished his first game as a Saginaw Spirit with a whopping six points, only two of which came on the power play, in an 11-3 thrashing of the Windsor Spitfires. Beck earned first star of that game and showcased the solid defensive instincts and mature decision-making that made him a target of the Spirit.

The main change with Beck this season, even dating back to his first games of the year in Peterborough, has been the shooting mindset. Now a lot less generous with the puck, Beck has consistently been looking for opportunities to showcase his release and capitalizing on it, be it via one-timers, catch-and-release wristers, or the occasional dash through defensive lines for an in-stride shot.

Bloom’s ability, and more importantly, his willingness, to find passing lanes and execute on them, as well as top 2025 NHL Draft prospect Michael Misa’s offensive versatility on his wing, has helped Beck make the most out of his puck touches offensively while still giving him a well-defined role as a two-way centre on that line.

Over the last six games, Beck saw Misa moved away from his line and shoot-first winger Alex Christopoulos take his place, but the results are more or less the same. Eight points in that stretch give him a total of 14 points in seven matches, the second-highest point-per-game rate on the team since joining it, just behind top draft-eligible defenceman Zayne Parekh.

As the season finishes off, Beck might see some more rotation on either side of him, but the Spirit’s depth of wingers makes that rotation more digestible for Beck while putting his adaptability and versatility to the test. The upcoming Memorial Cup will be a great opportunity for him to showcase the many ways in which he can impact the scoresheet and help a good team win.

Daniil Sobolev

A growing offensive game

Sobolev has often been the odd man out in these updates. The lack of production and unimpressive on-ice viewings have made him a less-than-ideal subject of analysis. His recent trade to Brantford gave him a better environment and a clear role on a team that needed the defensive boost he brings.

Since being traded, Sobolev has played six games for the Bulldogs, scored one goal, and added two assists while being four goals up in the plus/minus column. Going from the last-place team in the OHL’s Central Division to the top team in the East Division has helped him showcase what he can do with a better lineup around him.

The profile has always been clear: Sobolev is a defensive defenceman who likes to both hit and shoot hard and often. However, the issues with Sobolev are just as clear: his discomfort when it comes to having the puck on his stick, and the disconnect between his feet, hands, and brain.

Shooting hard and often is good. Shooting hard and often to get rid of the puck, not as good. Sobolev still fits in the latter category more often than not, but the vision has at least caught up. He has gotten better at threading passes and hitting teammates in the neutral zone in stride.

Still, Sobolev is far from being a legitimate contender for a spot on the Canadiens’ blue line. The low panic threshold and lack of chess in his game really hold him back from being effective. Glass-and-out blue-liners are starting to disappear from the league, slowly but surely replaced with more modern, possession-based defencemen.

At 6’1, 223 pounds, and with the aggressive mindset he displays, the Habs might still be tempted to sign him and see what he can do before their rights to him expire this summer, but the most they are likely to get out of Sobolev is a physical third-pairing penalty-killer.

Florian Xhekaj

New folks, same Deputy

Watching Xhekaj extensively this year has led to one conclusion: he doesn’t change his game. No matter who he plays with, no matter who is on his line or defending behind him, Xhekaj plays the way Xhekaj plays.

Sobolev being added to Xhekaj’s team and Jorian Donovan leaving it hasn’t altered Xhekaj’s approach. The team’s top scorer and his frequent linemate, Nick Lardis, being out with an injury and replaced with Marek Vanacker on his line hasn’t changed his approach one bit, either.

This can be good — your teammates know what to expect, where to find you, when they can expect a pass from you, and more — but it can also be a setback. Adaptability is an essential tool in pro hockey. The best of the best all have this attribute in spades. They can mould their playing styles, their habits, and their decisions around their linemates to elevate everyone on the ice and make them good.

Xhekaj’s lack of adaptability is clear, both in the good and the bad sense. He goes to the net-front no matter what. He tries to get a stick on point shots, digs for rebounds, pops out of the slot for a one-timer when the puck goes down low, and is never afraid to take shots from the half-wall on the power play.

However, he also tends to do these things even when the circumstances demand otherwise. Stopping in the middle of the slot off the rush? Not happening. Using the bumper on the power play as a give-and-go option? Forget it. He has his formula, and he does it well.

The defensive game has come some way since last year, which is always promising, and Xhekaj has the tools to make it into a bona fide strength. A future as a hard-nosed two-way forward in a bottom six isn’t out of the question.

There needs to be some bend in the formula he loves, though. Versatility and adaptability make a player unpredictable, allowing him to occupy a larger number of roles in a lineup. Watching some Beck tape might just help Xhekaj unlock those attributes, at least to some extent.

Thanks for reading — follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting for more prospects-related content, and to keep up with the rest of my work!

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