From my vantage point, Khaira is making himself a valuable part of the Oilers bottom 6 – and has even played a few games in the top 6 when Dave Tippett wants to change things up.
He’s a big body at 6’4″ and 212 lbs and he’s not afraid to use it, as he’s 4th on the Oilers right now with 79 hits. Not bad for a guy who only plays 13 minutes a night. He’s also got a willingness to fight and stick up for his teammates, and you still need that in today’s speed game.
Khaira, however, has also started to establish himself as a decent secondary scoring option in the bottom 6, as he currently sports 6-2-8 in 38 games. That extrapolates out to 13 goals and 17 points, which is right in the range of where you want a 3rd liner to be. Not a career-best for him, technically a 1 point downgrade, but still solid production for a 3rd liner – and an increase of 10 goals over last year.
Also impressive is Khaira – in a very small sample size – has a whopping 63.16% in the faceoff circle. Those numbers are likely to drop off but it shows that maybe he can start contributing that to the team as well.
The one blemish on Khaira’s record is – like many players on the team – he’s currently sporting a -13. If that doesn’t improve that will be the 2nd year in a row his +/- has decreased, not a good thing when you’re playing against the weakest opposition the NHL has to offer.
Still, I like Khaira’s overall game as his own zone play can be worked on.
Gaetan Haas has been impressive for a guy who made his way over from Europe for the first time in his career. He’s carved out a bit of a niche in the bottom 6 while being a part-time top 6 forward just like Khaira. He’s a bit of a utility knife that flies under the radar so you never notice him – the perfect role player for the NHL. He’s 9th on the team in hits with 36 and 7th in blocked shots with 22.
Best of all, he’s put up 3-4-7 in 34 games, all to go with a -2 which is pretty good for a European who has a steep learning curve to adjust to the smaller ice surface and higher physical play of the NHL. Over a full season, that’s 7 goals and 17 points, great numbers for a 4th liner. Don’t look now but Haas has already earned another contract with the team for the next 2 years.
1 of 2 trades made by interim GM Keith Gretzky after Peter Chiarelli was fired, the trade has turned out to be a good one as the Canucks almost immediately bought out the player he was traded for, Ryan Spooner. Gagner, meanwhile, has carved out a role for himself as a go-to top 6 sub who is a solid 3rd liner.
He’s got 1-7-8 in 31 games and is on pace for 31 points over a full season. The best part of this is Gagner is only sporting a 2.7% shooting %, which is way off his career average of 9.2% – which means we’ll probably see a slight increase in his offense as the season goes on.
He did a great job subbing in for Nuge when Nuge was injured, and although he’s not the player he once was in his 1st tour of duty here, I think he’s got a role for himself on the 3rd line as a winger. Dave Tippett didn’t seem to like him earlier on the season for some reason, but I think that stint subbing in for Nuge changed his mind as he’s starting to play more for the team.
I’m not sure we’ll see a permanent move from the bottom 6 to the top 6 as Kassian has done, but I do think Gagner will be back as a 3rd liner next year if Holland likes him as much as I do in the bottom 6. As long as Gagner is willing to take a pay cut to more bottom 6-friendly levels, then frankly I don’t see why he wouldn’t be back next year.
One thing that might not bring him back – he’s -7 from last year’s -3 which although is a bit of a slide is not a huge red flag by any means. He’s also only 40% in the faceoff circle in limited sample size, but he’s never been very good at the faceoff circle, so there’s no surprise he is only 40% this year. Last year’s 51.65% was an aberration, I guess.