Jujhar Khaira on settling in as NHL regular: ‘I know what I can do’

Edmonton Oilers forward Jujhar Khaira joins After Hours to talk about his journey to the NHL, his family and much more.

He’s made headlines throughout his time in the big leagues as a trail blazer of sorts, joining Robin Bawa and Manny Malhotra as the only players of Punjabi descent to ever skate in the NHL. But in 2017-18, Edmonton’s Jujhar Khaira proved he’s more than a historic footnote, emerging as a bona fide regular at the sport’s highest level and becoming a fixture in the Oilers’ bottom six.

On a club that’s seen largely disappointment this season, Khaira is one of the few who have enjoyed a career-best campaign, suiting up in 62 games for Edmonton (double the total he played in each of the past two seasons combined) while posting career-high double digits in goals (11) and points (20).

“That’s the goal at the end of the day, to be a guy that’s counted on and that has the coaches’ trust, and the players’ trust,” Khaira said to Scott Oake and Louie DeBrusk during Saturday’s After Hours segment. “One goal of mine coming into the season was to be a regular — at first it was just to make the team, and then slowly get inserted into the lineup. Now it’s (a) night-and-day difference from the beginning.

“I used to come to every game like it was a tryout, now I can take a deep breath and I know what I can do out there. It’s definitely more comfortable.”

Goals like the one above have become a key part of Khaira’s versatile skill set, giving the big-bodied forward the ability to move up and down the lineup depending on head coach Todd McLellan’s strategy.

But that offensive prowess didn’t come naturally. Rather, it’s the result of countless hours spent honing his skills with Oilers assistant coach Jay Woodcroft, says Khaira.

“(Skills training) is something we work on all the time. Woody comes in and always puts that extra effort in with me,” Khaira said. “That was a big thing coming into the league — there’s always room for improvement, it doesn’t matter who you are. And you see that from the top-end guys like Connor (McDavid) and Sidney Crosby. Just seeing that motivation, you know there’s a lot more to do.

“A big thing for me coming in was my hands, they were a little slower. That’s one thing I’ve really emphasized my work on. I try to do as much (stickhandling) as I can in tight, and with Woody’s help and other coaches’ help, it definitely makes a difference.”

A third-round (63rd overall) draft pick of the Oilers’ in 2012, Khaira has one more season left on the two-year deal he signed in 2017, carrying a cap hit of $675,000. A disappointing team result in 2017-18 is sure to bring plenty of off-season changes for the Oilers, but Khaira is doing what he can to keep himself in the fold.

“Playing in the NHL was my dream from when I started hockey,” Khaira said. “I definitely experienced it, but I’m not done with my dream yet. It’s one year and I definitely want to make a career out of this and play as long as I can.”

Listen to Khaira’s full interview with Oake and DeBrusk in the video at the top of this post.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.