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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – The emergence of Jujhar Khaira

As always, your friend neighbourhood Nation writers are back with a brand new edition of the mailbag to help you make sense of all things Oilers and kill a little bit of company time while you’re at it. I always need you guys for this feature so email me your questions to baggedmilk@oilersnation.com or hit me up on Twitter at @jsbmbaggedmilk. Now sit back, relax, and pretend to look busy for as long as possible. Have a good week, everybody.

Oct 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers right wing Kailer Yamamoto (56) skates during the warmup period against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

1) Curtis asks – I noticed Kailer Yamamoto’s production has been slow since returning to Spokane. Do you think the lack of scoring success with the Oilers affected his confidence? What could explain the lack of production at a level he dominated a year ago?

Jason Gregor:

Don’t see why. He had four points in his first game back in WHL. Then he slumped. I don’t see a connection. I watch a lot of WHL games and he looked out of sync. He likely suffered from thinking the WHL was easier than it is. He’ll be fine. He had two points in his final game before USA World Junior Camp, but his struggles illustrate why people, including Oilers management, shouldn’t be expecting him to be a top-six NHL forward next year. If he ends up earning it, great, but for goodness sake do not pencil him in there at the start of training camp.

Robin Brownlee:

No idea. Haven’t watched any of the 13 games he’s played with Spokane. Not sure if he’s he’s completely healthy or where he’s playing in the line-up etc. There’s also the chance he’s having difficulty adjusting to being sent back. Some players go through that.

Matt Henderson:

Yeah. As a I write this he has 12 points in 13 games after 99 in 65 last season. Plus only 2 of them are goals. It’s not a good look. You kind of want the kid to be dominating the WHL after getting his feet wet in the NHL. My guess is it’s being emotionally low after being cut from the Oil, but that’s just a guess. He’ll get his chance with USA Hockey right away and hopefully it will spark the rest of his season.

Cam Lewis: I doubt it’s anything more than re-adjusting to a completely different level. Not only do you have to go from following the play more at the NHL level to dictating a scrappier, more unpredictable game with worse linemates, you’re also re-adjusting to a different lifestyle. I’m sure he’ll be back to producing at a point-and-a-half-per-game pace after the WJC.

Chris the Intern:

I don’t think the lack of scoring in the NHL has affected him. I would think that just the NHL experience he got during his time here would be the fuel he needs to be successful back in the WHL. It’s pretty odd how his production has fallen off the charts though. Maybe he’s realized that any game playing without Connor isn’t a game worth playing? That’d be my thought process anyway.

Baggedmilk:

I get it, don’t you? The kid had a couple months of living the high life — taking private jets, nice hotels, ballin’ on an NHL salary — and it now back to riding the bus in Spokane. Maybe the come down is taking him a while to get over? At the end of the day, Yamamoto is an excellent junior aged player and I don’t think it’s a big deal at this point. Let’s see how he finishes the year.

Jan 5, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Eric Gryba (62) sends Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) into the boards during the third period at TD Garden. The Edmonton Oilers won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

2) Blake asks – I noticed Cam Lewis’ WWYDW question was in regards to what will happen to the defensive top 6 when Sekera and Larsson return from injury and I’m wondering what the writers think the Oilers will do?

Jason Gregor:

Larsson and Sekera come in and Auvitu and Davidson come out. I see Gryba going down and Nathan Walker. Auvitu can be the 8th D-man and 14th fwd at same time. And I would start Sekera in the third pair for a few weeks. Coming off major ACL surgery his timing will be off and no reason to throw him in against tough competition right away.

Robin Brownlee:

They won’t return at the same time but they are both top-4 guys when they are up to speed. I can see Russell and Benning as the third pairing with Davidson in the seven spot. One thing that could play into this, at least in the short term, is the health of Oscar Klefbom. Didn’t skate Sunday. Nagging injury here?

Matt Henderson:

So I think the Oilers will *eventually* settle on a top 6 like this:
Klefbom Larsson
Nurse Sekera
Russell Benning
It will probably start with Sekera on the third pair until he gets his legs back though. Of course, I have a different preference for that third pair, but I’m a big Davidson fan.
Cam Lewis:
Gryba will be the odd man out when Larsson returns. Auvitu has clearly passed him on the depth chart. Once Sekera is back? I would jettison the 14th forward and keep Auvitu. He has a unique skillset and can pay forward and defence. I also doubt he would clear waivers.

Chris the Intern:

It’s going to be a tough situation because for the first time we’re going to have some decent defensive depth and will have to see some guys get sent down. Unfortunately, Auvitu will probably draw the short straw, Gryba too obviously. Depending on how many defencemen the Oilers decide to keep we may have to part ways with another.

Baggedmilk:

You have to think that a guy like Gryba is starting to get nervous, right? I mean, he signed a two year deal this past summer but hasn’t been in the lineup since Davidson got back and apparently Todd prefers Auvitu as well (I do too). I’d think he’s the odd man out.

Dec 14, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Jujhar Khaira (16) ries top screen Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

3) Hank asks – What have you noticed in Jujhar Khaira’s game that is contributing his current hot streak?

Jason Gregor:

He has confidence with the puck. He holds onto it and looks for a play all over the ice. You don’t see him force passes or just dump the puck away very often. He is excellent at protecting the puck, but his overall belief that he belongs in the NHL is the biggest reason for the improvement in his play.

Robin Brownlee:

He’s getting to the puck with speed because he’s moving his feet and he’s going to the net. He’s hard to handle down low because of his size and he’s getting there in a hurry. Good combination.

Matt Henderson:

He’s making plays with confidence. He’s playing like he’s an NHL player working with his teammates instead of like he’s an outsider trying not to screw up. I hope that makes sense. He’s done way more than I assumed he would based in his first couple pro seasons. I wonder how effective he can be. He has a great frame and decent hands.

Cam Lewis:

He does things in a simple way and consistently plays with a solid effort like a player with something to prove. He skates hard, hits, and goes to the net, which is something that doesn’t happen enough on this team.

Chris the Intern:

JJ’s making smart decisions with the puck and working hard out there. It’s about time that his game is starting to come together cause he was on a pretty short string with the coaching staff. Another positive with him is that he seems to be clicking with any line he’s put on right now making him a versatile asset for McLellan to use. Hopefully, he can keep it up!

Baggedmilk:

Khaira is using his size to his advantage when he gets to the greasy areas of the ice and, more often than not, he’s walking out with the puck. You can tell he’s playing with a tonne of confidence right now because his decision making is good, his shots are on point, and he’s using his body to create separation effectively.

Nov 3, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) skates with the puck against the New Jersey Devils during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

4) iSi asks – It seems as though Nuge is doing well in the faceoff circle this season. My question is, how much of his improvement on the dot can be attributed to his personal improvement/development or the way refs are enforcing the rules this early in the season?

Jason Gregor:

New rules. He told me he worked a lot this summer on using his feet, and now the new rules don’t allow it. It is more timing and quickness than brute strength and he got off to a good start in the dot so he told me last week his confidence in draws is the highest it has ever been in his career. He goes in trying to win rather than trying not to lose.

Robin Brownlee:

He’s stronger and more experienced now. That’s at the top of the list for me.

Matt Henderson:

Column A and Column B. The biggest predictor of faceoff success is age and experience. He’s been in the NHL long enough (and been beaten by enough centermen) that he’s learned a lot. That said, he’s a good boy who doesn’t cheat. Calling the rules favors him.

Cam Lewis:

Players tend to get better as they get older at faceoffs, but the new rules are advantageous to RNH.

Chris the Intern:

You ever think that Nuge is just so damn adorable that the linesmen are just favouring him a little bit out there? Maybe dropping the puck on his half of the dot? It’s so easy to give in to that face!

Baggedmilk:

I think the rule change helped, I think the frank sit down with coach Todd at the end of last season helped, and I truly believe that RNH wants to be in Edmonton and will do whatever it takes to stay here. And he should stay here. Chiarelli would be an idiot for moving the guy now.

Oct 19, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom (77) blocks a shot against the Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov (15) during a game at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

5) Andrew C. asks – Didn’t play hockey growing up so my hockey knowledge is limited. What are some things that I can watch for to become more educated on the defensive side of the game?

Jason Gregor:

Start with basics. Puck skills are just as important for a defender than an offensive player. Dmen who can make plays with the puck will stand out. Also Body position is important. Don’t want to get caught reaching. Also watch veteran elite defenders. Look at their stick positioning. It can break up so many plays, and often discourages forwards from even trying certain passes. Also I’d caution all the talk about defending the blueline. Every entry is different and there are times to attack and times to let play come to the defender.

Robin Brownlee:

That’s a book. For young players, make the simple play. For D-men, positioning between the opponent and the net and the gap control aspect of it plays the biggest part. Don’t chase the play. That’s just a few aspects that come to mind for me.

Matt Henderson:

Hey, I think we are all looking for ways to learn more about that side of the game. It’s one part that commentators don’t explain a lot because (I think) it’s not as sexy as goal scoring. Everyone sees something different when a defender makes a play. I look at things like, how did they defend a zone entry? What are their tendencies under pressure with the puck? Do they throw it away, take an extra step, or fumble the puck? Can they pass it to a forward regularly and hit them in stride? Have fun learning!

Cam Lewis: 

It’s difficult to do on TV, but watch players when they don’t have the puck and try to figure out what they see and how they respond to it. I find hockey is really entertaining when you key in on one player for a shift and watch the play develop around them rather than following the puck.

Chris the Intern:

I like to watch the d-men play without the puck as an evaluation of their game. Sure there are a lot of other aspects to watch but I like to see how they play the game without the puck. – their awareness in the defensive zone of opposing players, how they skate in the zone, etc. This isn’t necessarily just for the defensemen but for the forwards in the defensive zone as well.

Baggedmilk:

My biggest thing that I like to watch is positioning and breakout passes. Which guys are in the right spot at the right time more often than not, and who can make a clean breakout pass when the pressure is on. Just watch, there are some guys that all they can do is rip it around the boards or go off the glass and out and others that can create space and make a pass. It’s a huge difference and easy to pick out.

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    • ed from edmonton

      You gotta love the natural optimism of this site. I guess it hard to be even keel (let’s forget about optimism) after a decade of total futility.

    • FISTO Siltanen

      Makes sense. I had a feeling that an injury might be the case.

      Not sure I see a shoulder injury as being an issue. Said it before: seems every game he blows out a wheel while making a turn. Regardless of whether there is pressure coming from an opponent.

  • ed from edmonton

    I see the Oil face off % is better as a team, and our course the big improvement by RNH is a part of that. I suspect the change in rules has taken away some of the advantage more veteran players had, as they now must re-learn the art to some extent.

    Gryba is likely on waivers when the two Dmen return and, baring other injuries, the OIl go with 8 D and 13 forwards for a spell. Walker likely the odd man out.

  • camdog

    I wonder if Henderson wrote the expected d-pairings before Wood Guy – Darcy McLeod took him to the wood shed on Twitter for ignoring the analytics in his evaluation of the Oilers d-man?

  • JimmyV1965

    Will be interesting to see what happens when Larsson and Sek return. Unless things chdnfe dramatically here, I keep Davidson. And I take Auvito and Benning out.

  • OilersBro

    I think finding complementary players will be increasingly important and has been exemplified through Khaira’s success. He plays well with another big mobile body who can help him forecheck. He looks great with Draisaitl and Strome since all three players are versatile and can attack the defense in many ways.

    Also I don’t want to take too much credit but ever since I dressed up as JJ for Halloween parties he’s been tearing it up 😉

  • BringitbacklikeSlats

    Chiarelli said he has a “nick “. How do you parse shoulder issues from that?

    Still don’t know how a banged up wing forces poor decision making in his own zone, or allows for full swing clappers that miss by a mile. You’d think with a sore shoulder he might try just getting the puck on net?

    • fasteddy

      My theory is he’s stopped reacting as much…..almost a case of reading too much into the press clippings. Dance with the one that brought ya Klef, don’t think you need to be Bobby Orr all the sudden