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Oilers Look to College Players with Jujkar Khaira

The NHL does not have a lot of racial diversity, but that is something that is slowly changing. With their first 3rd round pick the Edmonton Oilers selected Jujkar Khaira, an East Indian playing in the BCJHL. And while it may not have seemed like a big deal to Khaira, it did to the many South Asians who play hockey in Edmonton. As reported by Robert Tychkowski of the Edmonton Sun, Khaira’s was the second most requested autograph at the Oilers’ development camp after Nail Yakupov. But it wasn’t Khaira’s heritage that has got him to this point, but rather his hockey skills.

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Still Khaira must know that should he make it to the big show, race will come up from time to time. Just look at Jordin TooToo and what he means to the Inuit community being the first Inuk player in the NHL. “I don’t think that it is that big of a deal what race you are or anything. Everybody’s fighting for the same positions. It’s cool though.”

And it was a cool experience for Khaira and his family to make the trip for the draft, Khaira and his brother are the only ones in his family to play hockey. But maybe this draft will change that. “It makes me feel good [to be drafted] because I have so many younger cousins that are starting hockey at a younger age and hopefully they can progress as well.”

If they have Khaira’s size or talent, they would be welcomed additions to any hockey league.

“I’m a power forward,” Khaira describes himself in his first media address as an Oiler prospect. “I play a two-way game I’m really good goal to goal line in the offensive zone I’m good at finding people in the slot.”

That sounds like what Steve Tambellini has been looking to add to his lineup.

Khaira placed in the top ten of four physical tests at the NHL combine prior to the draft according to the Spruce Kings, Khaira’s BCJHL team, “With the seventh largest wing span measurement of 77.75 inches, Khaira also showed his strength in the bench press finishing fifth with 12 reps of 150 lbs and also eighth for strength lifting 9.1 lb/lb of body weight a full 4 points above the Combine average. In the test of upper body power, Khaira was fourth throwing a 4 kg ball 232 inches.”

Meaning that the Oilers may have a project player in Khaira that may pay out bigger, better and faster than some of their other picks.

 

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But Khaira has brains to go along with his braun and is commited to Michigan Tech for the next season. Khaira and his family are willing to make the change to whatever other hockey program the Oilers would like, but the team never seems to have a problem developing their players in college programs. The team doesn’t just say that they are concerned about the character and personality of their players, they live it. The Oilers have kept players like Andrew Cogliano and Dillon Simpson in school, and have signed players who have graduated from the college system with degrees such as Tyler Fedun. Most likely it will be up to Khaira more than the Oilers whether or not Khaira graduates from school or leaves early.

I don’t know nearly enough about the NCAA to speak to the quality of education, training or competition, but I do know that several notable players came through Michigan Tech including Jarkko Ruutu, Andy Sutton, Damian Rhodes, and Tony Esposito.

And Khaira himself saw good reason to try to add his name to that list. In an interview with Neate Sager of Yahoo Sports Khaira explained “Our former coach is an alumni there and he had a lot of great things to say about the team there. Then just talking to the coaching staff they said I’d be a centre building block to the program there, get used in key situations. I’d rather play at a smaller school where I’d get a lot of playing time rather than go to a bigger school where I’d have to sit out the first couple years.”

Becuase I admittedly don’t have enough background on NCAA hockey, I turned to Scott Wasilewski of the Faceoff Hockey Show who was very helpful summing things up.  “Michigan Tech is part of the WCHA, which has the teams like University of North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State; so the competition is one of the highest in the country. While they are a small fish in the big pond, the fact that they play against high standard programs will be a great leg-up for Khaira. However, the WCHA will have a big reformat with North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth going to the “super conference” and Wisconsin and Minnesota going to the newly formed Big Ten Conference with Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State leaving the CCHA.”

Khaira says that his favourite player is Taylor Hall and that he has been enjoying watching Ryan Nugent-Hopkins grow up. And now he has even more reason to watch intently. If he plays his cards right, Kharia may one day be finding those guys in front of the net.

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Michigan Tech fan here with a primer on the situation Jujhar Khaira is entering:

Jujhar Khaira has made a great choice for his future by committing to Michigan Tech. First of all, he’s said he’ll be majoring in one of the engineering disciplines, which makes Michigan Tech a great place for his education. More importantly to those reading this, Michigan Tech’s hockey program is on the rise. They had a dismal year in 2010–11, going 4–30–4, and after the season replaced their head coach with Mel Pearson, who was Red Berenson’s right-hand man at Michigan the previous 23 years. (Prior to that, he was a player and assistant coach at Michigan Tech, so we know he loves the place. We only hope Michigan can’t lure him back when Berenson retires.) The Huskies’ record last season was 16–19–4, and the team had more conference wins than they did the previous three seasons combined. Interest in the team has increased among students/locals/alumni, and that’s manifested in a significant bump in attendance and arena improvements (read: donations).

In Khaira’s freshman season this fall, he’ll be playing on a team that should be better than last year’s. Whether their record will show it, however, remains to be seen, as conference rivals who finished below Tech in last year’s standings, like Wisconsin and Minnesota State, also have great recruiting classes coming in. The Huskies will have three drafted players on their roster for the first time since 1998–99 (Blake Pietila, NJD, 129th overall in 2011, and Jamie Phillips, WPG, 190th overall in 2012, are the other two), but the team is probably not a threat to make the NCAA tournament given the strong competition in the WCHA.

In 2013–14, realignment takes place and the Huskies are well-positioned to become one of the powerhouse teams in the new WCHA, in which case the team will have a much better chance of making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1981. They will continue to have a strong non-conference schedule – Pearson has had discussions with a number of teams including Minnesota–Duluth, Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State and Maine.

Even if their new conference proves to be weaker than the rest (except Atlantic Hockey, which is a cost-containment conference that doesn’t grant scholarships), what Khaira’s development comes down to is Pearson. Mel recruited and developed over 50 players who made it to the NHL while he was at Michigan, and the turnaround our team experienced last year proved to the college hockey world that he knows what he’s doing and Michigan Tech couldn’t have picked a better head coach. Khaira will have four years to learn from him, we’ll have (hopefully) four years to watch him, and when you get him he just might be ready to step in. It’s a great situation for everybody.

Posted by Michigan Tech Alumnus on 07/05/12 at 01:04 PM ET

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You go girl! Great read, love the personal interest thing. Dunno what your hits look like, but judging from the usual lack of comments, they aren’t what they should be. You do good work kiddo, maybe one of the world’s best kept secrets.

Posted by Bruger from Binghampton on 07/06/12 at 02:11 AM ET

Lisa McRitchie's avatar

Thank you so much for the Michigan Tech insight, I really appreciate that!

Bruger, thank you very much for your kind words. I don’t worry much about the comments, they usually mean I made a mistake somewhere :p

Posted by Lisa McRitchie on 07/06/12 at 11:28 AM ET

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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.

Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.

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