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Photo Credit: © Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Three Thoughts: Seize the Day

In a season that’s produced far more disappointment than success for the Edmonton Oilers, and with too many players under-achieving and failing to meet expectations set a year ago, it’s been a lot of fun watching Jujhar Khaira seize an opportunity from the rubble of what we’ve witnessed and make the most of it.

Instead of sulking or folding after being a healthy scratch in 10 of the Oilers’ first 16 games this season and having this campaign go sideways, Khaira taken the opportunity he’s had since then and run with it like he stole something. We saw more of that Wednesday in a 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. Khaira found a way to make his mark, and leave his mark, by riding to the rescue of teammate Jesse Puljujarvi after a hit by Christian Folin. You can see that here.

I’m not sure, as I Tweeted last night, that the hit on Puljujarvi by Folin warranted the whupping that Khaira dished out – I saw it as a clean hit with maybe a bit of stick in the ribs for good measure – but that’s not the point. Khaira didn’t like it and rolled in to take care of business. In doing so, the big forward out of Surrey, B.C. earned a little more respect from his teammates and staked out a little more turf for himself in trying to prove to coach Todd McLellan he belongs.

Outside of the progress we’ve seen from Darnell Nurse this season, I can’t think of anybody who has come as far as fast as Khaira has to this point. In an era when, in my opinion, some young players expect to be given an opportunity by the coach rather than reaching out and grabbing it, Khaira is doing exactly that. That says a lot about him, given how the season began.

PUT ME IN

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

One of the most difficult things for young players to do is figure out what it takes to stay in an NHL line-up once an opportunity presents itself. Are they willing and capable of stepping outside their comfort zone, to become something other than what they were in junior, college or the minors, to provide their team what it needs? Are they willing to do, and work on, aspects of their game that don’t come easily? It can be hit and miss, and the window of opportunity only stays open so long.

Khaira, 23, has had a few cracks at Edmonton’s line-up since being drafted 63rd overall in 2012. He got into 15 games in 2015-16. Last season he played just 10. Then, all those healthy scratches to start this season. Now, with 39 NHL games under his belt this season and 64 overall, Khaira looks like an NHL player. Where he fits in, exactly, we don’t know yet, but he’s giving McLellan no choice but to keep penciling him in. Khaira is big. He can skate. He can score a little bit. He’ll hit. He’ll fight. Over to you, coach.

“You come into the season with a goal of just making the team, whether you play or sit,” Khaira said in an interview with Post Media Saturday. “And moving forward throughout the season, there are little goals that you want to reach. Coming in, I wanted to be a guy who played in the top nine, someone who can produce and be held accountable for his mistakes. I want to be one of the guys who is a reliable player on this team.”

I’ve lost track over all the years I’ve watched hockey of how many kids, many of them more naturally talented than Khaira, who never did figure things out and find a role, find a foothold. Others figured out what it took, but weren’t willing to put in the work. “I didn’t get a chance.” There is always an opportunity for young players who reach out and grab it and refuse to let go rather than wait for it to come to them. I’m enjoying watching Khaira tighten his grip.

GETTING STARTED

Nov 26, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Edmonton Oilers goalie Cam Talbot (33) during the first period against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

For all the talk about starting a playoff push on this three-game swing through California, it was the same old, same old for the Oilers against the Kings, who beat them in for fun in L.A. When Kyle Clifford sifted a puck past Cam Talbot 1:10 into the game, it marked the ninth time this season that the Oilers have given up a goal on the first shot of the game.

It was also the 32nd time through 52 games the Oilers have allowed the first goal of the game. While that made for some drama after Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid scored to tie it 2-2, there’s no percentage in chasing the game like that. The Oilers are 9-21-2 when giving up the first goal.

CHEER THEM ON

The latest edition of the World’s Longest Hockey game starts Friday at Brent Saik’s acreage, best known as Saiker’s Acres. If you’ve never been, I’d urge you to stop by and have a look between now and Feb. 19. You can go any time of day or night to watch the 40 participants taking part to raise money for the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Every one of us, or somebody we know, has a stake in this game. Cheer them on. Donate if you can.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  



  • The Future Never Comes

    Nurse, Khaira, and JP are the only players to really regress upwards this season in output. Virtually everyone else has stayed status-quo or has declined. The real question becomes how do they move forward with so many big gaps again. Maroon, Letestu, Cam, maybe Strome are all but gone. We need at least 4 new NHL ready forwards next season and at least 1 new actual bonafied puck moving defenseman. How do they achieve this without giving up draft picks (Cannot do with our baron wasteland on the farm team) or overpays in Free Agency. How is Chiarelli to get these assets in trades, when other GMs see his past trade record and know they have the ability to fleece him?

    • Prairiechicken

      Agree with those guys being the only ones who improved this year. Although I guess might add Nuge to the list too – albeit minor improvement to an already good player – but still improvement. And maybe even Davidson – although he’s still a bottom pair type of guy so the improvement has a pretty negligible impact on the team.

      Also, I can’t see Peter letting Strome walk.

    • BendingCorners

      I don’t think it’s as dire as you suggest. There are gaps on the wing in the top six but if a fire hydrant like MacDonald could score 40 goals alongside Gretzky, a similar lump of metal should get 25-30 goals playing on McDavid’s line. Yamamoto and this year’s 1st round pick might not be ready for 2018 (or they might) but finding fillers for a year or two should be doable.
      Strome looks okay as 3RW and 4C isn’t that hard to fill. Maroon, Cammalleri and Letestu should provide some picks that will help keep the middle and bottom of the roster full in future years, and Talbot is better than he has shown this year.
      On D, expecting Russell or Benning to play on the second pair is a bit risky but Benning at least has upside and Bear and Jones look like good future D-men. In the meantime the top-3 look like they will keep improving and could carry a weaker partner.
      Overall, on nights the team plays hard they do well; they haven’t done that on too many nights this year so how they do next year is going to depend on that more than it is on the GM finding more spare parts.
      Reaching the playoffs once in ten years is bad but everything went wrong this year and in a tight league like the NHL bouncing from worst to first is always possible.

    • Igor Ulanov 55

      “Regress upwards” is an oxymoron, and in this case isn’t correct, as neither player are returning to a former state. Rather, it would be more correct to say that they have “developed”, or “improved”, while the remainder of their teammates have regressed or stagnated. However, you also forgot to put McDavid on your list.

  • LAKID

    What can you say, Khaira never got a fair shot earlier in the season or last year and now the coaching staff has been forced to play him. JJ is proving to be more valuable than Lucic,Letestu and somewhat Kassian and Strome. I think Maroon is an edge above JJ for now but not for long. Talbot is a back up goalie and once again the Oiler’s are paying too much for an under achiever. Trade Talbot and Montoya (before he plays 6 games) away.

      • jultz=2cups!??

        What a surprise. Huey and duey agree with each other. The two “fans” that hate the oilers starting goalie and most of the roster because the team isn’t winning. Fair weather fans. Khaira was fantastic last night. His play reminded me of how Lucic, maroon and kass were playing last year. Hope they were taking notes.

      • btrain

        You know who else has backup numbers SV% and GAA? Price, Craig Anderson, Last years Champ Matt Murray. You know who else has had years of backupish numbers between top 10 years; Rinne, Bobrovski, Crawford, Dubnyk, Smith, Bishop, Elliot, Hellebuyck, Quick, etc.

        I have been disappointed in Talbot’s play this year, for sure. However, to ignore his body of work and only focus on this year is a classic lynch mob fan tactic that makes no sense. Goalies are most vulnerable to having off years but the truly good ones, and I believe Talbot is one of them, almost always bounce back. Discounting this season, Talbots SV% over his previous 186 NHL games is a .922! That puts him in 3rd place, behind only Price and Bobrovski, for Goalies with over 150 games between the 2012/13 and 2016/17 seasons. Having a good backup to push him a bit is important, but its far from time to give up on Talbot.

  • Odanada

    Nothing says second stringer like 9 games where the opposition scores on the first shot.
    I like Cam and respect what he accomplished last year, but he needs to modify his style. Patrick Roy brought back the butterfly and Cary Price improved upon it. But over the years, shooters have figured out that Price goes down early, and if you just hesitate a second, you can snipe it up over his shoulder for the goal. Talbot is just like Price; they’ve figured him out.
    Goaltenders like Freddy Anderson use a hybrid style where they track the shooter better and stay on their feet longer. It keeps shooters guessing and is far superior to the “fall to your knees immediately” style used by Talbot.
    The NHL is tough to stay competitive in and you either grow with the game or get left behind – unless you’re playing for Bergevin that is – then you get a huge contract that handcuffs the team for years to come. Hopefully Talbot gets the coaching he needs and alters his style. Hopefully Chia doesn’t offer him a blunderful contract like the Habs gave Price. But then again…. we are talking about Chia….

  • toprightcorner

    Giving up a goal on the first shot 18% of the time is a significant statistical anomaly. Though so is a 56% PK at home. This team still has a couple big holes, but you can’t help but think that without some of these bad luck statistics that they would be realistically in a position to make the playoffs.

  • toprightcorner

    JJ is bringing the physical presence and lineup protection that Lucic has failed to bring. If Lucic was banging bodies and terrorizing the other team, you could overlook the 16 game scoreless drought. Without it, he just seems like a guy that doesn’t care.

  • Gravis82

    My Three thoughts: Oilers need 1) Jeff Skinner, 2) Mike Hoffman and 3) John Tavares while giving up no one.

    Sounds impossible, but if they had that they would probably be a cup contender. That’s the kind of balanced talent it takes to win.

  • Oiler Al

    Keepers….McD,Drai,Nuge,PulJ,Khair, and Lucic by default.On defense,Nurse,Klef,Larsson,Davi, and sekera by default.
    Talbot.
    This makes for a great number of holes in the roster.PS. Bakersfield oven is empty.

  • crabman

    I like what Khaira is bringing to the team. The energy he plays with has a sense of urgency. It’s probably the fact that he has had to work so hard to get his icetime. I think too often players taken higher in the draft because they were point producers in junior lack the other dimensions it takes to be a bottom 6 player. So for them it is scoring line or bust. they typically had their way all the way through their young hockey lives and when they are no longer better than their opponents they don’t know what to do. Khaira Wasn’t drafted to be a top line scorer. He was big, fast for his size and had some scoring. But that was always the knock on him, not a great scorer. He needed to dominate with his physicality. Match that with speed and we potentially have a good bottom 6 guy.

  • bleedingcoppernblue

    Can you even imagine how much more depressed we would be if Vegas would be benefitting from JJ’s game and we had another lefty in Reinhart on the AHL team as a reminder of our overpayment… thankfully Vegas passed on JJ, he has been one of the few bright spots in a very dreary season!

  • Kneedroptalbot

    Play Jujhar Khaira and unload Kassian, he couldn’t score in his own net if the goalie was pulled. Kassian is another of Chiarelli’s, Big Heavy…boat anchor contracts.