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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports

It’s make-or-break time for Edmonton Oilers prospect Jujhar Khaira

2016-17 Edmonton Oilers: No. 54 LW Jujhar Khaira

Jujhar Khaira was selected in the third round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He has played five seasons of hockey since then, including three years of pro hockey, mostly with Edmonton’s minor-league affiliate. And although he was at the younger end of his draft class, it included players like Nail Yakupov, Griffin Reinhart and Mitch Moroz, players whose time with the Oilers has already ended.

In other words, it’s time for Khaira to make the jump. With his waiver exemption now used up, he won’t be a prospect come the fall. He’ll either make the jump and be a player (with Edmonton or another team) or go on waivers and become a suspect.

The good news for both the Oilers and Khaira is that his 2016-17 season is a pretty good launching pad for a player trying to become a full-time NHL’er.

For the third season in a row, Khaira’s offensive numbers at the AHL level improved:

  • 2014-15: 51 games, four goals, six assists, 10 points (0.20 points/game)
  • 2015-16: 49 games, 10 goals, 17 assists, 27 points (0.55 points/game)
  • 2016-17: 27 games, eight goals, 12 assists, 20 points (0.74 points/game)

The obvious caveat here is that while Khaira’s offence has increased, it’s still not at a high level. The much younger Jesse Puljujarvi had 28 points in 39 games this season (0.72 points/game), a result which was mildly disappointing for him. The critical difference is that Puljujarvi is projected as an impact player at the NHL level. The Oilers’ ambitions for Khaira are nowhere near so lofty.

Rather, the job Khaira is applying for is that of cheap, dependable bottom-six forward. He’ll need to kill penalties for sure, and faceoff ability and physical play would definitely be assets. He’ll need to generate some offence – Anton Lander, who failed in the same role, had most of the job description down but couldn’t score to save his life some years – but he doesn’t have to deliver a lot.

Khaira’s AHL offence is in the range of what it needs to be. Matt Hendricks played 500 games in the NHL after scoring 0.67 points/game in his final AHL season. Boyd Gordon hit 700 career games after topping out at 0.66 points/game in the minors. Zack Kassian, who stands a decent chance of playing further up the lineup, scored 0.72 points/game in the AHL during the 2012 lockout. Obviously, I’m skipping over a bunch of players in that scoring bracket who never made the cut, but this quick look at recent Oilers depth guys shows that this level of minor-league offence is enough to have a career, provided the player can deliver on the rest of the job description.

We don’t know yet that Khaira can. Nevertheless, there is a lot working in his favour.

The obvious attribute he brings is size. No coach can teach 6’3” and 215 pounds, and the old line that small players have to prove they can play while big ones have to prove they can’t has a lot of basis in reality. As a rule, coaches prefer big teams; they particularly tend to like depth lines that add some meat to the lineup.

Khaira isn’t just 6’3” and 215 pounds, he plays like it. He had 20 hits in 10 games at the NHL level this season in limited ice-time. He’s not an enforcer, but has also fought 15 times over a 158-game professional career, something which won’t lose him any fans in Edmonton.

More importantly, the indications we have suggest that he can play.

Over 10 games last season, largely spent on a defensive zone specialty line with Hendricks and Mark Letestu, Khaira didn’t look out of place. Over an hour and a half of 5-on-5 time when he was on the ice, the Oilers had a 75-69 edge in the Corsis and outscored the opposition 2-to-1. This is, obviously, a tiny sample, but it’s an encouraging one, particularly since these lines got a steady diet of defensive zone starts (even as we must acknowledge that this ice-time mostly came against the dregs).

Importantly, Khaira is also young and cheap, two items which will work in his favour. He turns 23 in August, meaning that if he’s competent in a depth role next season he still has some room to grow. His $675,000 cap hit over each of the next two years is just $25,000 north of the league minimum. Even if he’s just competent as a No. 12/13 forward, those two factors give the Oilers incentive to keep him on the major-league roster.

Bottom line: We won’t know for sure if Khaira can make the grade until he actually does it, but the growth in his AHL offence and his performance over a brief NHL cameo both suggest that he’s in the range for a depth job. That he’s big, young and dirt cheap are all added incentives for the Oilers to give him time to find his legs in the majors.

Previous year-end reviews:

  • Connor'sGotHart,Ross,Lindsay!

    In the opportunity that he had I think he has shown that he can be an NHLER. Like his size, skating , and willingness to get involved physically on the ice.

  • Cowboy Bill

    Brad Malone might have something to say about JJ Khaira making the Oilers this season . It will be a battle . Same with Pakarinen & Rattie . They were brought in for a reason , not only for Bakersfield .

    • McRaj

      Paka for sure will be competition but I think JJ is ahead of him on the depth chart. Malone is a similar player but again behind JJ on depth chart. Rattie is a completely different player and not the guy you want on a 4th line. He is more of a top 9 guy.

    • Jonathan Willis

      I’m not saying it won’t happen, but Malone and Rattie will both need huge training camps to push for a spot. Malone was under 30 points in the AHL this year and had 6 in the majors his last full NHL season; Rattie was a wreck in the minors last year. Unless they’re head-and-shoulders better than Khaira/Pakarinen I think they’re ticketed for Bakersfield.

  • Rob...

    I see him as potentially being Pouliot 2.0 with less penalties incurred. He has size, speed, effort and some scoring ability in a secondary capacity. He has also shown more hockey sense than many rookies we’ve given extended looks to.

  • TKB2677

    Kharia has all the tools to be an effective bottom 6 guy. Probably a 4th liner but who knows. He has size, speed, a bit of toughness, has a physical element to his game. All things that are great to have to be really effective 4th liner. His offensively ability is up in the air but still if he is a 4th liner and can maybe kill some penalties, it might not be a big deal. If you look at him, he’s a slightly bigger, better skating Matt Hendricks. Hendricks was a limited player that carved out a pretty nice career. I think Khaira is probably more skilled and definitely a better skater. Khaira just needs to put it all together with a consistent effort every night like Hendricks did.

  • I always thought he’d be the Matt Hendricks replacement. LW/C who can fight, hit, take faceoffs, PK, and score from time-to-time. I hope he’s not benched as much and gets his time early in the year to prove himself as Letestu’s new trusty left-winger.

    • HardBoiledOil 1.0

      i too hope he can go from sometimes player to full time player, and with Hendricks gone he has a spot that’s open for the taking. he’s a classic case of the type of player you can end up with if you don’t rush him to the NHL and let his develop.

  • nuge2drai

    Khaira is going to be a stud. He’s fast, he has size and he can make a play.

    Looking forward to seeing him break onto the roster this season.

    Oiler Domination To Follow