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Photo Credit: © Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Year in Review: JJ Khaira made the most of his opportunity

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.

  • Oilman99

    With his work ethics both on and off the ice, JJ could make a push for a top six spot if given a chance. Big man in front of the net for a pp spot seems likely.

  • Big Nuggets

    Khaira is great. I don’t know which line he will end up on but I feel like he might be a better bet than Lucic to stick on a line with Draisaitl. His hands seem to be a bit softer and he still brings the size along the boards. Or if he forms a solid 3rd line with Strome that would be great too. If he and Strome can play on the 3rd line and each get 15 or more goals our depth suddenly doesn’t look so bad. The best bet is that he spends a lot of time with Brodziak on the 4th line which I like too.

  • Oilman99

    With his work ethics on and off the I’m sure JJ will seize the opportunity if given a chance. PP duty as a net front man seems likely. If he can keep improving his scoring ability, he may push for a top six position at some point, size,speed ,and good puck possession skills.

  • Odanada

    JJ doesn’t back down from anyone and that makes him someone his teammates like and respect.
    A guy who is smart, plays hard and has your back in the trenches is a guy worth keeping IMHO.

  • He could play on Brodziak’s line and be a good physical energy guy or he could play on Strome’s line and be that 25-30pt guy or he could be our 4th line centre if Brodziak gets hurt or Strome moves to wing. JJ should be a keeper for our bottom-6 forever.

  • OriginalPouzar

    A great arrows up season for Khaira. Prior to the season, I never thought he had the offence in him to every play above the 4th line. I had seen him make some incredible stone-hand plays in his first few years as a pro but he far exceeded my expectations this past year.

    No only did he, in my opinion, solidify himself as an every day NHL player, he showed more offence than I ever thought he had and more puck skills – carrying the puck through the neutral zone with authority.

    Without looking, I believe his shooting percentage was well over 20% so I expect that to come down but I think he has a chance to become a solid middle six every day player.