This is one part of a player-by-player Year in Review series we’ll be doing over the next couple months as we look back on the 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers season.
2017-18 Edmonton Oilers No. 16: Jujhar Khaira
GP: 69 – G: 11, A: 10, PTS: 21
I think it’s fair to say that not a lot of things went right for the Oilers last season. There was more negative than positive and more players ultimately underachieved and disappointed than exceeded expectations. There weren’t all that many bright spots, but Khaira was certainly one of them.
It was a pre-season injury to Anton Slepyshev that ultimately earned Jujhar Khaira a spot in the Oilers’ lineup for the team’s season-opener against the Calgary Flames last October. Despite coming into the season pencilled in as an extra forward, Khaira earned himself a regular spot in the lineup, capitalizing on an opportunity presented to him due to the team’s lack of depth on the wings.
Khaira quickly endeared himself as a fan favourite. He plays a hard, physical style of game and never takes a shift off. He forechecks well, hits like a truck, can chip in a little bit offensively, and earned a reputation as one of the better fighters in the league. Just ask Cal Clutterbuck.
Khaira bounced around the bottom-six for a good chunk of the season. He became especially effective when he got put on the team’s third line alongside Ryan Strome. The two of them played in a defensive role and managed a 52.5 shot attempt differential at even strength. They also broke even down the middle in terms of even strength goals for percentage. That’s pretty much exactly what you’re looking for in bottom-six players, chipping in some offence but ultimately not getting scored on more than you score yourself.
The Oilers have had a hell of a time finding diamonds in the rough over the past few years. Khaira, a third-round off-the-board pick from the 2012 draft, is exactly that.
It seems Khaira has carved out a nice niche on the team as an energy forward who can play in a few different roles. He can chip in a bit on the third line, he can play centre in a pinch, and he can kill penalties. It would be outstanding if he could take another step forward offensively next season. Khaira played in 69 games and buried 11 goals, which is a 13-goal pace over 82 games. If he could become a 15 goal player consistently on the third line, that would be huge for the Oilers given how much he costs.
Given his season last year, Khaira deserves a bigger opportunity on the team in 2018-19. Last year he started as the team’s fourth-line winger and worked in and out of the lineup. This year, he should start alongside Strome on the third line and it would be worthwhile to give him some looks on offensive lines given the element he brings to the table. I mean, he was one of very few players who seized their opportunity last year and impressed, so maybe he can take another step forward.