Edmonton Oilers: The curious case of Jujhar Khaira

Edmonton Oilers, Jujhar Khaira #16 (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Edmonton Oilers, Jujhar Khaira #16 (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

I’ve been meaning to write a blog about Jujhar Khaira for a while now.  His career on the Edmonton Oilers has taken such an interesting turn.  Khaira was drafted in the 3rd round in 2012, a rare win past the 1st round for the Oilers’ previous incarnation of amateur scouts.

He played 1 season of US college hockey before moving to junior for 1 season with the Everett Silvertips.  He showed some offensive chops there, going 16-27-43 in 59 games.  But, of course, the list of guys who could score in junior but not above that is long, so this was no guarantee of anything.

He joined our farm team of the day – the Oklahoma City Barons – for the last 6 games of the 2013-14 season as well as for 3 playoff games.  He had more regular work the next year, going 4-6-10 in 51 games with 62 PIMs and a -7.  Now we were getting a glimpse of the type of player he would become.  He would go on to add 3 goals and 4 points in 8 playoff games.

In 2015-16 the team moved to Bakersfield to become the Condors, which of course is where our farm team remains today, and Khaira moved with them.  He improved in every area that 1st season in Bakersfield, going 10-17-27 in 19 games with 69 PIMs and a +3.

However, with the Oilers being a non-playoff team that year, they decided to give Khaira a callup because really, how much worse could he be than anyone else in the bottom 6?  He proved he needed a little more seasoning for the NHL, though, producing only 2 assists in 15 games with a -2 and 13 PIMs.

He went back to Bakersfield to start the season, and this time flourished, going 8-12-20 in 27 games with 31 PIMs and a +4.  The Oilers called him up 1 more time, this time playing 10 games, scoring 1 goal in those 10 games with 2 PIMs and a +1.

With the Oilers lacking in bottom 6 forwards who could score at the time, Khaira made the team out of camp for the 2017-18 season and never went down to the minors again.  His season then has proved to be the high mark of his career so far, as he put up 11-10-21 in 69 games with a -7 and 47 PIMs.

After that, though, his career took a bit of a nosedive, as his point totals went from 21 to 18 to 10, his +/- went from -7 to -12 to an ugly -19 last season.  His PIMs also predictably followed the same trend, going from 47 to 43 to 38.

He also disappeared in the playoffs last season, one of several players – especially in the bottom 6 – who were invisible in the play-in series with Chicago.  He put up no points in the 4 games he played and only 2 PIMs.  It’s worth noting that it was his 1st trip to the playoffs, though, so let’s not read too much into it long term.

Nonetheless, Khaira received his 2nd contract of 2 years at $1.2 million apiece at the end of 2018-19.  This year is Khaira’s contract year where that contract is up, in a position where players are a dime a dozen and where there is always competition to replace you.  With more depth than ever in the bottom 6 at the start of this season, Khaira picked up right where he left off the last 3 seasons, with underwhelming play.

Getting out of the Edmonton Oilers doghouse

This predictably put him in Dave Tippett’s doghouse, and he was in and out of the lineup constantly, off and back on the taxi squad too.  But eventually, the lightbulb came back on and Khaira realized that he had rode the pines long enough.  At roughly the mid-point of the season, Khaira realized that he would have to do better if he ever hoped to get back to how he was capable of playing.

He worked hard in practice on the taxi squad and finally impressed Dave Tippett enough that he was inserted back into the lineup, and he hasn’t come out since.  In fact, he’s formed 1/3 of a great 3rd line with Josh Archibald and Alex Chiasson.  Khaira is back to playing center, and he’s a power forward who can beat his opponents with physical play or producing offence.

If Khaira finishes the season as strong as he has rebounded this season, he’s bound to get another contract from Holland when the year is done.  All he needed was a little kick in the butt.

Khaira is playing 11:59 a night on average right now, and as you would expect he doesn’t play much on the power play but something unexpected is he’s been an integral part of the PK.  He’s playing 2 minutes a night on average on the PK right now, 5th on the team, and the last guy in the 2 minutes or higher mark.  He’s also 3rd on the team in hits with 126, not surprising as he is a physical player.

The one area of Khaira’s game that still needs a lot of work is on faceoffs.  Khaira has taken 306 faceoffs, 3rd highest on the team behind only the McDrai duo, but has only finished at 45.75%.  He’s hardly alone in this – everyone on the team who has taken the proper sample size of faceoffs except for Leon Draisaitl is below the 50% mark right now, but still, it would be nice to just call on Khaira to take the faceoff in the D zone, have confidence that he’ll win it the majority of the time, and run with that.

Right now we don’t have that with Khaira.  What’s even more frustrating is Khaira actually finished last season at 51.52%, so we know he’s capable he’s just not getting it done.  Faceoffs only become more critical in the playoffs, so Khaira should work on this area if he doesn’t want to find himself traded within the time frame of his next contract.

Otherwise, Khaira’s work has rebounded pretty decently.  There’s still more time left in the season, of course, but Khaira has put up 3-8-11 in 32 games this season at the time of this writing with a +2 (!) and 42 PIMs.  By the way, those boxcars are 1 point more than he put up in double the games last season.  If he keeps up the same rate of offence (0.34 PPG) he’ll finish with 19 points, solid boxcars from a 3rd liner.  Gotta love the 21 point increase in +/-, too, that’s an amazing rebound.

The contracts of both Khaira and Chiasson are up after this season.  Look for both of them to be re-signed unless 1 of them completely implodes between now and the end of the season.  The 3rd line of Archibald-Khaira-Chiasson is the best 3rd line we’ve had in quite a while, and the Oilers will look to keep the 3 of them together if they finish the season as strong as they started when Tippett put them together.  Too bad we don’t have the same sort of certainty on our 4th line, but that’s a topic for another day.

Edmonton Oilers Bonus Material

The Oilers called up Ryan McLeod as of 9 hours ago to take the roster spot of the injured Nuge.  As a necessity, the McDrai duo is going back to playing together, and McLeod is thought to be slated to center Kahun and Yamamoto on the 2nd line.

This is well earned for McLeod, who currently sits 5th in scoring in the AHL with 14-14-28 and a whopping +23, the center on the Condor’s dynamite 1st line with Cooper Marody and fellow draft pick Tyler Benson.

He’s certainly a better option for that line than Gaetan Haas, who is manning the center position there now and will be until McLeod is finished his required 7-day quarantine because he has to cross the border.

This will be McLeod’s 1st callup.  Pretty ballsy of Tippett to play him in the top 6 in his 1st callup, but honestly who else would be better in that spot?  Anyone else already on the roster doesn’t have the hands of Mcleod, who is coming to the Oilers on a high from a banner season in Bakersfield.  Also, we know Tippett likes to make aggressive moves with his roster, don’t we?

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I’m excited to see what he can do in the big leagues.  Can’t keep expectations too high for his 1st game, but after he gets more comfortable then the sky’s the limit.  McLeod was drafted in 2018 in the 2nd round, the Oilers’ next pick after Evan Bouchard in the 1st round.  Current Condors backup goalie Olivier Rodrigue was drafted with the Oilers pick after McLeod, with the last pick in the 2nd round.