Thursday, October 14, 2010

Spruce Kings Rookie Getting Noticed

Spruce Kings sixteen year old rookie Jujhar Khaira is starting to emerge out of obscurity and onto a much brighter stage. Earlier today he was the subject of The Hockey News Prospect Watch feature. The Hockey News has long been the standard for news from the hockey world. With their Prospect Watch feature, they "focus on up-and-comers from the AHL, Europe, major junior, the NCAA and even minor hockey leagues looking for players destined to become big names in the NHL."

In this particular case they did veer away from the traditional feeding grounds and went to the league that has been establishing itself over the past number of years as another source of professional talent. What they found was a gem that had been overlooked by other teams and even other leagues. In a list of ten players dating back to the beginning of August, that have been chronicled in the Prospect Watch feature, seven have already been drafted and one other was signed as a free agent to the NHL. Two of the players are draft eligible in 2012 with the other sixteen year old playing major junior this year.

Being in that company, you know Jujhar Khaira is truly a special player and being identified so early in his first year of junior eligibility shows that. The Spruce Kings scouting network has reason to be pretty proud of themselves right now. Here's a player that went through the Bantam Draft undetected and came out the other side happy that he was missed and given the opportunity to play with the Spruce Kings.

Speaking with Jujhar, I can tell you that his focus remains on playing the game at the highest level possible while earning an NCAA Division I scholarship. It is quite possible that the next press release from the Spruce Kings office will be just that as schools have been making their intention known. Scouts have been coming to Prince George and following the team on the road to watch this young man play.

What follows is the complete article written by Ryan Kennedy and reprinted here with permission from the Hockey News. The original article and other Prospect Watch articles are available online from the Hockey News website (click here).

Some pros were scouted from the day they hit puberty, their ascendancies breathlessly catalogued by bird-dogs, GMs and the media. But the path of the late-bloomer is also well-worn and when a kid starts putting up numbers, you wonder how all the experts fell asleep at the switch.

Jujhar Khaira (photo courtesy Andrea Johnson)
Size is often a factor and the now 6-foot-1, 180-pound Jujhar Khaira (pronounced Judge-ar Care-ah) is raising eyebrows in Jr. A.

Just 16 years old, the center for the Prince George Spruce Kings of the British Columbia League is having a breakout season, posting 16 points through 14 games in a league generally dominated by older players. As an example, the team's leading scorer, RJay Berra, is a full four years older than Khaira, who went undrafted in his Western League bantam year, but wasn't too shocked by the omission.

"I don't think there was any expectation, to tell you the truth," Khaira said. "But it has been a great motivator for me."

The Surrey, B.C. native plans to go to an NCAA program once he's finished high school, anyway, but the Spruce Kings are glad they found him when they did.

"Jujhar's off to a real good start," said coach Ed Dempsey. "He came to one of our prospect camps and we identified him there, then he came to training camp and did very well.”

Coming from the Vancouver suburbs, small-town Prince George is a definite geographic shift for the youngster, but he's having a ball.

"I love it," Khaira said. "There are so many people that actually love hockey and everyone knows what's going on."

And what Spruce Kings fans have seen so far is a big kid who can move and score.

"He's a very gifted two-way player and a big man who's very mobile," Dempsey said. "He's got a great shot with a great release and he gets from Point A to Point B quicker than you think."

But Khaira's play isn't the only reason he gets noticed. Coming from the multicultural haven of Surrey, he's one of the few South Asian faces in hockey. Along with teammate Faiz Khan, Khaira is part of a growing group of players that includes Canucks pick Prab Rai, Buffalo prospect Kevin Sundher, Boston University's Sahir Gill and of course Vancouver's Manny Malhotra.

"I was probably the only brown kid on my team every year of minor hockey," said Khaira, who was glad to see Malhotra sign with the Canucks, but also lists Ryan Kesler and Sidney Crosby as his favorite players.

And while Khaira, NHL draft eligible in 2012, enjoys showing off hockey's growing diversity, he also acknowledges it's pretty early in the game to consider himself a role model. After all, he's still 16. But the presence he has brought to the ice so far in Prince George puts him in a different class.

"It's not often a 16-year-old comes in and has such a major impact," Dempsey said. "It's definitely a unique situation. He's a player that slipped through the cracks. He's a 1994 (birthday), so it's hard to call him a late-bloomer."

But the BCHL is glad to have him. One of the most consistent Jr. A leagues when it comes to churning out top talent, the BCHL has also been a springboard for players such as New Jersey's Travis Zajac, Colorado's David Jones and Phoenix's Kyle Turris.

Khaira will likely play another full season with the Spruce Kings before heading off to college and given what he's done as a freshman, that's a pretty scary notion for the rest of the league.

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