After teasing us with what looked like something of a breakout season in 2017-18, Jujhar Khaira should be entering the prime of his career and making his mark with the Edmonton Oilers right now. He’s left me wanting since then.
"He's a big guy that brings a different dimension to our hockey club." -Holland on Jujhar Khaira #Oilers
— Oilersnation (@OilersnationHQ) July 1, 2019
At 25 and going into his fifth NHL season with 156 games in the books, Khaira is getting into he-is-what-he-is territory. What he looks like now is a competent third-liner who can chip in a little offensively, play a physical game and kill some penalties. There’s nothing wrong with that for a third-rounder, but . . .
The thing is, I’m expecting more than competent. After watching Khaira put up 11-10-21 in 69 games in 2017-18, by my estimation he’s only been OK since then. His goal-scoring dropped off last season, one in which he was slowed by a foot injury. Khaira put up 3-15-18 in 60 games during a season the Oilers desperately needed depth scoring. Opportunity lost. Of course, he had lots of company.
Now, with a new GM in Ken Holland, a new head coach in Dave Tippett and a bunch of new faces in the line-up, Khaira has the perfect opportunity to show he’s exactly the kind of player Tippett can anchor his bottom six around. Yes, it’s only been two games as the Oilers face the New York Islanders tonight, but now is as good a time as any, no? I haven’t noticed him much. You?
At six-foot-four and 215 pounds, Khaira is blessed with size. To my eye, he gets around the ice pretty well for a bigger player. He’s shown he can bang and he’s willing to fight. We’ve seen decent hands from him around the net in flashes. He dropped from a 15.1 shooting percentage in 2017-18 to 4.7 last season. If he can get back to somewhere in the middle, he’ll be fine.
Simply put, Khaira, who is on a two-year deal that pays him $1.2 million a season, brings a lot of dimensions to the table. If he can put them all together at once, which I haven’t seen over any long stretch over the last year, he’s exactly what Tippett needs and can lock himself into the long-term plans with a new GM and coach who are assessing everything and everyone.
If Khaira can’t find a way to consistently do that over the span of this coming season, there’ll be younger and cheaper players on the way willing to take a run at his job description and roster spot soon enough. Tonight, it looks like we’ll see Khaira on left wing with Riley Sheahan and Patrick Russell against the Islanders.
For what it’s worth, I think there’s more here, that Khaira is more like the player we saw in 2017-18 than what we’ve seen since. The thing is, Holland and Tippett never saw that guy, and they call the shots now. It’s about time that they did.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
While the Oilers are taking steps to improve the fan experience and attract fans back to Rogers Place – like cutting some food prices by 15 per cent for season ticket-holders, to name just one pitch – they obviously still have a lot of work to do on their dwindling season-ticket base, according to an item CBC ran today.
“As a season ticket holder, we have no incentive to be season ticket holders,” said Rocky Dhanju, a season ticket holder since 2010. “Spending 22K I can pick the 10 games I want to go every year, and not even come close to that value and still get club seats . . . our hot dogs, our burgers, they still suck. There’s nothing gourmet about anything we have there.” For full context, the CBC item is here and it’s worth a read.
It’s up to Tom Anselmi, hired four months ago as president of business operations, to get it right. “We need our fans to feel like they’re appreciated,” he said. “The fact that we’ve missed the playoffs 13 of 14 years, that’s not where you want to be and that reflected in our renewal rates . . . I’ve heard all kinds of things and we need to be a great experience. There’s no question we need our fans to think that they’re appreciated.”
What’s your take on the game night experience?