For an organization that could not develop anything other than first round picks for the better part of the past decade, it appears as though the Edmonton Oilers could be on the verge of finally turning that around. While defenceman Brandon Davidson is looking like one heck of a steal as the 162nd pick of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, they may have found another diamond in the rough in youngster Jujhar Khaira.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) December 17, 2015
Though he hasn’t produced much in the way of offence through the first nine games of his career, the 21-year old has shown to be a rather useful piece of the puzzle during his brief time in the Alberta capital. At 6’ 3” and 214 pounds, the hard-working Khaira not only has the size this roster has been lacking for some time but also appears to have the necessary instincts to become a solid bottom-six forward at the NHL level.
Khaira Brings An Element The Oilers Do Not Have
While he did show the ability to produce offence during his one season with the Everett Silvertips in the WHL, the chances of the Surrey B.C. native repeating it in the pro game are slim at best. With that said, if we are talking about Khaira eventually developing into 10-15 goal guy who brings a physical element on a nightly basis and plays a fairly responsible game, something tells me everyone inside this organization would be jumping for joy.
“I like his physicality, his size, and I think there’s more there,” said Head Coach Todd McLellan. “I think he has to get his confidence up. We’re playing him like we really believe in him and he’s got to believe in himself a little bit more because I think there’s more there. He’ll learn situations a little bit better, but his size offset a little bit of their size tonight.”
If nothing else, those comments tell us one thing…this coach likes what he has seen from Khaira during his initial run through the NHL and believes there is something there. Make no mistake, the fact McLellan had just watched the youngster go toe-to-toe with San Jose Sharks defenceman Brenden Dillon after being challenged for a huge hit he laid on Justin Braun played a part in his comments but they were also pretty much bang on. Again, the willingness to engage in the physical side of the game, combined with the fact he rarely puts himself in a tough spot on the ice would make him a favourite of almost any coaching staff.
Injuries Opened The Door
There is no question the rash of injuries that has hit this club is the reason why Khaira made his NHL debut far sooner than expected but it also led to him being used further up the depth chart than anyone could have imagined. With all due respect to the 63rd overall selection of the 2012 Draft, seeing him skate alongside the likes of Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Leon Draisaitl and Taylor Hall was more than little surprising but then again, not complete a shocker.
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While the Oilers have finally started to show signs of improvement in certain aspects of their game through the opening two and half months of their 2015-16 schedule, the combination of a lack of healthy bodies with a roster that remains short on players who play a “heavier” style game opened the door for Khaira to see time on the top two lines. In my mind, that says far more about the limitations of other guys on the lineup but that is a story for another day.
With that said, the former third-rounder pick should himself headed back to the Bakersfield Condors in the not too distant future. By the sounds of it, Benoit Pouliot is on the verge of returning from injury and Nail Yakupov likely won’t be far behind. As of this moment, there is no room for Jujhar Khaira on the Edmonton Oilers roster in the here and now. However, if he goes down to the AHL and continues to work on his overall game, don’t be surprised if happens to earn a regular spot on this team come next October.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.