Jujhar Khaira’s first one dozen NHL games surprised me. Watching Edmonton’s prospects develop in the AHL, you come to expect some semblance of offense at that level before a strong NHL debut is deemed possible. In the case of Khaira, his 2014-15 AHL season was very poor offensively, but his second season at that level showed great improvement. His NHL games have me genuinely encouraged.
“We’ve got to get him playing more, and he’s going to get that (in Bakersfield). I think he’s an NHL player.” Coach McLellan on @jujhar94
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) January 8, 2016
If you are a 21-year-old minor league player, that is the kind of goodbye you like to read on the way to the airport and the minors. When I read it this morning, it struck me that Khaira had in fact delivered on a lot of levels in those one dozen games. He got an assist (which was taken away, and then returned), hit everything in sight (especially early) and perhaps most important kept up with the play and proved capable of taking and making a pass. How did Khaira’s debut compare to recent AHL callups in their first trip? Let’s have a look:
- Jujhar Khaira (2015-16) 12gp, 0-2-2, 13 shots, 25 shot attempts, 26 hits, 10:08 TOI/game
- Anton Slepyshev (2015-16) 11gp, 0-1-1, 5 shots, 16 shot attempts, 13 hits, 8:41 TOI/game
- Iiro Pakarinen (2014-15) 5gp, 1-0-1, 9 shots, 6:26 TOI/game
- Andrew Miller (2014-15) 9gp, 1-5-6, 14 shots, 22 shot attempts, 7 shots, 13:45 TOI/game
- Luke Gazdic (2013-14) 67gp, 2-2-4, 30 shots, 51 shot attempts, 103 hits, 5:48 TOI/game
- Mark Arcobello (2013-14) 41gp, 4-14-18, 70 shots, 127 shot attempts, 71 hits, 15:04 TOI/game
- Tyler Pitlick (2013-14) 10gp, 1-0-1, 9 shots, 18 shot attempts, 26 hits, 8:58 TOI/game
I think Andrew Miller and Mark Arcobello played a different game (although notice the hits total for Arcobello, he was excellent at separating player from puck despite being small), and Luke Gazdic was used more as an enforcer.
Among the rest, I think Khaira compares pretty well in their respective debuts. Khaira compared to Pitlick just looked like a far more confident player, and although Pakarinen looked good early he didn’t last long (returning in February of his rookie season). Khaira, for me, brought more of his game to the NHL than a guy like Pitlick. Maybe it has to do with injuries, but part of it may be that Khaira is physically bigger and more noticeable.
— Bakersfield Condors (@Condors) January 8, 2016
WHAT ROLE WILL HE PLAY, UPON RETURN?
I think Khaira will be a checker in the NHL, but am interested to see if he can post significant offense in the AHL, year two. I think he ‘might’ be able to play in the NHL in a style and fashion similar to Jordan Nolan of the LAK. Here are their respective numbers in year two of their AHL careers:
- Jordan Nolan 40gp, 9-13-22 (NHL that season: 26gp, 2-2-4)
- Jujhar Khaira 17gp, 3-5-8 (NHL this season: 12gp, 0-2-2)
Nolan is not an especially effective possession player, but he is one of those heavy forwards who can be helpful in a limited, checking role.
— james stucky (@jamesstucky) January 4, 2016
WHAT IF HE DELIVERS MORE OFFENSE?
Khaira has been somewhat difficult to track as a prospect, as he kept moving around after draft day (BCJHL, NCAA, WHL) and played for button down defensive coaches like Kevin Constantine. Frankly, when he didn’t produce at the AHL level as a rookie, I felt we had him surrounded as a (very) limited offensive player.
We don’t know what we don’t know, and the AHL does not provide TOI totals. Based on his AHL totals this year, and his limited NHL exposure, there may be a more complete player here than first thought. We wait.