With Nail Yakupov sidelined at least two weeks following an ankle sprain, the Edmonton Oilers needed to dip into the farm system to find a replacement. Some thought Anton Slepyshev, who impressed during training camp, could get the call, but the Oilers have instead brought Jujhar Khaira up from the Bakersfield Condors.
If Khaira finds his way into the lineup Friday when the Oilers visit the Detroit Red Wings, he could find himself in the history books as the third Punjabi player to ever suit up in the NHL. According to Harpreet Pandher, an analyst on Hockey Night in Canada’s Punjabi broadcasts, Khaira would be following in the footsteps of Robin Bawa and Manny Malhotra, both of whom have Punjabi roots and have suited up in the league.
According to the Oilers, Khaira, who hails from Surrey, B.C., is expected to take pre-game warmups and is still being considered a possibility to suit up against the Red Wings.
Khaira, 21, is well-deserving of the call up given his performance this season, too. Through 16 games in the AHL, he has managed three goals and seven points while firing 38 pucks on net. A third-round pick, 63rd overall, of the Oilers in 2012, Khaira stands 6-foot-3, 214 pounds and can use that frame to drive the net. He’s averaging 2.4 shots per game in the AHL and his ability to get pucks on net will help him with the Oilers.
His performance this season is a vast improvement from where he was in 2014-15. In 51 games with the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons, he scored just four goals and 10 points, but caught fire in the post-season, racking up three goals and four points in eight playoff games.
When, or if, Khaira cracks the lineup, it’s likely he takes bottom-six minutes. He could be a decent straight-line player in the top six, but he projects to be more of a third- or fourth-line grind-line style player, especially with his size and physical play.
Khaira is just two seasons removed from playing with the WHL's Everett Silvertips. In 59 games with Everett, Khaira scored 16 goals and 44 points, notching another three goals and four points in five post-season games. He had played with the NCAA's Michigan Tech prior to coming to the WHL.
In order to pass Bawa on the list of all-time Punjabi scorers, Khaira will need only eight points. Malhotra’s another story, though, as he racked up 116 goals and 295 points in 991 games during his career.