Jujhar Khaira has four goals in his first three AHL games this season, as he enters the final year of this entry-level deal. Khaira (in photo by Mark Williams, all rights reserved) may be that more rare of things: An Oiler draft pick developed successfully (forward division) using the AHL as the final stop before making a successful jump to the NHL.
If we go back to the turn of the century, and look for forwards who were
- Drafted outside the first round
- Entered pro hockey via the AHL
- Developed during their three year entry-level deal.
We come up with a fairly rare group. Remember, there have been 17 drafts if we include 2000, and only six men qualify:
- Year One AHL 65gp, 13-6-19 .292
- Year Two AHL 76gp, 22-18-40 .526
- Year Three AHL 40gp, 26-14-40 1.000
By the end of year three, Winchester was in the NHL and scoring one of the most famous Oilers goals of the century (hello, octopus!). He was one of very few men who developed in the minors for Edmonton, eventually playing in 390 NHL games. Note: Nice progress offensively year over year.
- Year One AHL 76gp, 21-33-54 .711
Stoll spent one season in the AHL before graduating to the NHL (he did return during the lockout season) but he remains unique in this century—he was probably NHL-ready but the organization slow played their talent. Perhaps a lesson to be learned here.
- Year One AHL 64gp, 2-8-10 .156
- Year Two AHL 47gp, 9-6-15 .319
Stortini would make the NHL in year three of his deal, although he spent a cup of coffee in year three before being elevated to the NHL. Stortini is somewhat unique in that the job he was applying for (and won) no longer exists (enforcer type), it is true he improved offensively in his second AHL season.
- Year One AHL 56gp, 6-26-32 .571
- Year Two AHL 55gp, 12-19-31 .564
- Year Three AHL 62gp, 24-32-56 .903
Brodziak had two seasons that were basically the same, and then spiked in year three. I remember his development, he was always applying for the same job as Marc Pouliot at the NHL level—eventually winning that two-way job in another organization.
- Year One AHL 67gp, 12-4-16 .239
- Year Two AHL 68gp, 7-16-23 .338
- Year Three AHL 57gp, 7-13-20 .351
VDV never did get untracked offensively, but used his other skills to make himself valuable to an NHL team (currently at 207 NHL games and counting). He is somewhat similar in style and possible role to JJ Khaira.
- Year One AHL 14gp, 1-4-5 .357
- Year Two AHL 47gp, 9-11-20 .426
- Year Three 46gp, 18-34-52 1.13
Lander had a strange development curve, but that wasn’t his fault—the Oilers kept him in the NHL in his first year despite a glaring need to develop offensively in the minors. I don’t know that Anton Lander was ever going to be a substantial player, but his handling by the Oilers did not help his cause.
Tyler Pitlick (maybe)
- Year One 62gp, 7-16-23 .371
- Year Two 44gp, 3-7-10 .227
- Year Three 39gp, 8-14-22 .564
He could not stay healthy, and did not reach .500/points-per-game (which seems to be a line in the sand) until year three Both player and organization were patient and it may work out despite the injury delay.
Jujhar Khaira (maybe)
- Year One 51gp, 4-6-10 .196
- Year Two 49gp, 10-17-27 .551
- Year Three 3gp, 4-1-5 1.67
Strong progress over three seasons, although he has just started his final year of the entry-level contract. There are similarities between Khaira and a few players on this list, in that it takes a period of time during the three pro seasons to find the range offensively.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Names like Kyle Brodziak and Jarret Stoll are interesting when talking about Jujhar Khaira for two reasons. First, these capable NHL players did take some time to develop, including a stop in the AHL. Second, the Oilers gave up on both men too early, sending away productive seasons for draft picks and the promise of a new tomorrow.
Jujhar Khaira may be Brad Winchester, or something else. The only thing we can say for sure is that he is nearing an NHL shot. Edmonton drafted him and earned the right to his productive seasons, and based on current intel should probably make room this or next year for a solid if unspectacular talent.