Jack Todd: Xhekaj holds the password to more than a better nickname game for Habs

The Montreal Canadiens defenceman wrote another chapter in the best story of the young season with the first goal of his NHL career on Saturday.

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Well, at least we have Wifi.

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On a night when the Canadiens were strafed by a pretty good Dallas team, Arber Xhekaj, the guy they call Wifi, wrote another chapter in the best story of the young season with the first goal of his career.

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The goal was also a capper to a brilliant week for the undrafted 21-year-old defenceman. He recorded his first assist, becoming the youngest undrafted Habs defenceman to earn a point. He racked up seven hits against the Stars and a pretty backhand pass that led to Mike Hoffman’s goal.

He also thrashed former Hab and veteran NHL pugilist Zack Kassian when the Canadiens thumped the Coyotes Thursday night. The only time Kassian has taken a worse beating in Montreal was the night seven years ago when his truck ran into a tree.

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(Like everyone else, former heavyweight champ Chris Nilan loves the kid — but Nilan is right when he says Xhekaj doesn’t have to play to the crowd after winning a fight.)

With his teammates calling him Wifi, Xhekaj also represents a major upgrade in the Canadiens moniker game. He leads a parade of exciting young players who are moniker worthy — like Filip “Tape” Mesar, “Fast Lane” Hutson and Owen “Hunt And” Beck. Xhekaj even has a good backup moniker: before Wifi landed and stuck, reader Brady Moffatt had suggested Scrabble, based on the fact that the big defenceman’s last name is worth 27 points in letter value alone.

But Wifi it is — the best nickname for a Habs defenceman since Douglas “Crankshaft” Murray. Crankshaft could hit, too, but it took Xhekaj less time to beat up Kassian than it took Murray to skate from one end of the ice to the other. The rookie can skate and fight and hit and play and it’s going to be as hard to get him out of the lineup as it is to move him on the ice.

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That represents the best problem the Canadiens have: young depth. The pipeline is deeper than it has been at any point since the 1993 Stanley Cup. That doesn’t solve the power-play problem, or Kirby Dach’s difficulties on faceoffs, but it all has to begin with talent.

This team has talent, and with the draft picks they have it’s only going to get better. No matter what nicknames they have.

Young Sheldon got it right

Sheldon Keefe is saddled with a bunch of talented prima donnas in Toronto and unless the day comes when he’s allowed to rip them without having to walk back his comments, the Leafs are never going to reach the promised land.

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That’s fine with me, but this bunch could use a three-year dose of vintage Pat Burns turning the walls blue with much-deserved profanity. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner & Co. are going to kill many a coach before they’re through, especially if the coaches aren’t allowed to speak their minds.

Drouin still not doin’ it

If things don’t change soon, Martin St. Louis is going to have to give up on Jonathan Drouin — and it’s a shame. Drouin just can’t seem to find the “on” switch when he’s in the lineup. He plays a meek, hesitant, uninvolved game.

The problem has to be confidence. Drouin has too much talent to play the way he does, but the long-term wrist injury coupled with his personal struggles may be too much for him to overcome. If he could believe in himself, the rest would follow — and if he can’t, it’s going to be a loss not only for the Canadiens, but for the game itself.

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Lies, rumours &&&& vicious innuendo

Once again, Sunday games and deadlines mean we’re reduced to the role of cheerleaders for Wilfried Nancy and CF Montréal. New York City will be the toughest challenge yet, but it says here the club is going to keep on rolling, so if they fall short, don’t blame me — blame the crystal ball. …

We here at Monday Morning Quarterback Central still see no reason to believe the 8-9 Alouettes would not have done at least as well with Khari Jones as coach. It was an unnecessary, unfair firing, and nothing short of an underdog Grey Cup win is going to absolve Danny Maciocia on that score. …

If deliberately swinging a high stick at an opponent isn’t worth more than a one-game regular-season suspension (hello, Evgeny Kuznetsov), then George Parros and the Department of Player Safety might as well just shut it down because they’re utterly useless. …

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Brendan Gallagher needs to buy some luck. …

Hockey has had its problems with terrible owners, and there are still a couple around, like Chicago’s Rocky Wirtz and Edmonton’s Daryl Katz. But Daniel Snyder of the Washington Commanders is in a league with the likes of Jeffrey Loria and Harold Ballard. It doesn’t get worse.

Heroes: Juraj Slafkovsky, Kaiden Guhle, Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Martin St. Louis, Félix Auger-Aliassime, Wilfried Nancy &&&& last but not least, Arber “Wifi” Xhekaj.

Zeros: George Parros, Hockey Canada, Scott Smith, Ron MacLean, Canada Soccer, Alexander Ovechkin, Daniel Snyder, Tom Brady, Claude Brochu, David Samson &&&& last but not least, Jeffrey Loria.

Now and forever.


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