I pen you this piece as I watch “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. You will recall that it is the first chapter in the life of young Potter, his two good friends, and growing up questioning the backgrounds from which we’ve come. There is a fearlessness to which Harry goes about his curious ways. From constantly sneaking out at night to the invisibility cloak, Harry has a way of getting things done despite not having all the information. When he finally reveals the dreaded Voldermort, his arch enemy, he embraces the bravery that seems to be the X factor that not all wizards posses. He arrives, not only as a spell-caster, but as a human being in life. Alohomora!
To pull a page from J.K. Rowling’s books I too will fearlessly move into the darkness of uncertainty. I’ll pluck a prospect from near professional obscurity, and I’ll look into his future. My aim is true, but subject to debate. I don’t normally eat crow, but if I have to make it blackened.
Jujhar Khaira caught my attention not on draft day, not through video highlights on YouTube, but when he elected to leave Michigan Tech before completing his four years as a collegiate player. The reviews were glowing back then, and remained the same when he played in 59 games with the Everett Silvertips in the “W”. Leaving play at collegiate level meant that he would become an Oilers prospect to watch almost overnight. Why? Yes, he found success in his freshman year, but he had the smarts to pursue something that he was clearly qualified for.
We have seen players leave college level play early, fail to be successful, and then we all wonder why they left in the first place. That could be Jujhar Khaira, but I’m glass full and overflowing on both his decision and his future. Let me explain.
Fans in Oklahoma City had the privilege of watching Khaira play six games as a Baron during the final heaves of the regular season in 13-14. He added to that number with three games played in the postseason run. One goal and a few penalty minutes is what we see on the scoresheet, but what we watched with our eyeballs was something completely different.
Chris Dilks at Western College Hockey had the perfect one-line scouting report on Khaira at the time of his departure from Tech (via SBNation College Hockey):
Last season, as a freshman, Khaira scored 6 goals and 19 assists for 25 points for the Huskies, and the 6’3″ 194 lbs. forward developed a reputation as one of the heaviest hitters in the WCHA.
Indeed what Dilks saw is what Barons fans saw, but with a few more wrinkles (the good kind). Heavy hitter, yes, but he is a very intelligent big fella. I hate to make the comparison, but organizationally most Oilers fans will understand where I’m coming from when I say that Khaira is a lot like Teemu Hartikainen. If you thought Hartikainen struggled with skating, Khaira doesn’t, and that’s good news for a player looking to seal a power forward position in the NHL.
Last week, during development camp, Khaira added sagely wisdom to the masses as well as a dose of honesty (via Edmonton Sun):
“It’s been a really good few years,” said Khaira, during a break in training at the Oilers Orientation camp in Jasper. “I had a strong season at Michigan Tech, really developed my game and matured as a player.”
“And playing the WHL got me used to the NHL schedule and style of play. I did a lot of video and practice for my defensive zone coverage. I thought I really improved on that. I didn’t get many points, but at the same time I think I had a really good two-way game and I played like a power forward.”
Rarely do you find a player that isn’t trite in regards to his own play, and where he needs to improve. In this case, Khaira is spot on. I love that, and I think it is a good indication of the headspace on this kid.
Coach Todd Nelson has noticed improvement, and he should know:
“I liked what I saw,” he said. “His skating was vastly improved from when I saw him before in Penticton and his overall confidence with the puck was better — the play didn’t die with him.
“He did a great job in playoffs against Texas just by ragging the puck down low. It’s nice having a big body up the middle. He centred Travis Ewanyk and Jack Combs against Texas. They were considered our fourth line but they were our most effective line because they owned Texas’s fourth line.”
Coach gives some attention to the both the placement of Khaira and his exceleration in that role. Indeed he centered Ewanyk and Combs which was an angst/skill combo to his left and right. Not the ideal situation for a nineteen year old to be thrust in to. In the end, as coach points out, that line carried the puck and thus the play even in a limited role. Steering the eventual Cup winning Stars fourth line to rough starts was a huge statement. I agree. Khaira also spent time with other prospects forwards including Josh Winquist and Greg Chase. Through their young ‘un shortcomings they still found a way to really overcome obstacles. A lot of that had to do with the feverish playmaking by Jujhar.
I wrote a brief seen-him-good piece, and noted (with images) exactly what Khaira does so right at such a young age. That piece can be read here. In one sentence he is smart, offensively tenacious, defensively wide, and a increasingly quick player for a guy with “size”. There isn’t much flash to his game, but there doesn’t need to be.
This is a role that the Oilers seemingly have wanted for some time (Abney, Hartikainen, O’Marra), that is a big guy with offensive upside. The truth is that size doesn’t matter, but it certainly does help (imagine Arcobello w/ 20 more lbs and 4 inches). Still a teenager, Khaira has some major “ups” in terms of future growth right now. He isn’t a skillful centerman in the traditional sense, so the Oilers can wait him out. That will be good for growth. Recent signings, as well, will protect his prospect cover for at least another season.
The ceiling on Khaira, in terms of points, could be near thirty in his first year as a full-time pro. That seems like a large undertaking, but even on a third line 5 on 5 Nelson will wrangle him into the power play as much as he can. That will help, and will give us hope. I choose you, Jujhar Khaira, to be the next Oilers prospect to hit the NHL soon.