Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Jujhar Khaira: The Story of Determination

The Edmonton Oilers drafted Jujhar Khaira
63rd overall in the 3rd round

This past weekend was the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and as expected our very own Jujhar Khaira was able to realize a long time goal for himself and in the process has reinvigorated the Spruce Kings faithful with a renewed passion for the team. New and old fans alike over the past two seasons have watched this young man continually excel both on and off the ice. When you thought he had reached a new pinnacle of success he was on his way to another.

Playing the game he loved, Jujhar achieved star power with the Spruce Kings and the Edmonton Oilers feel they struck it rich with a player that flew under the radar. That might be an understatement knowing that he was overlooked by every Major Midget and Major Junior team as a fifteen year old.

They say things happen for a reason and this was one of those things. Besides being passionate about hockey, Jujhar is also very focused on education. The Spruce Kings and indeed the BCHL have long sung the praises of pursuing the collegiate route when it comes to the game of hockey. Having the opportunity to play in the premiere junior 'A' league in all of Canada also provided Jujhar with the opportunity to receive a NCAA Division I scholarship.

That happened for the young man just over a month into his rookie season as a sixteen year old. The accolades didn't end there as WHL teams started courting the young man to determine his level of commitment to the Spruce Kings and the education route - turns out that commitment was unwavering.

Jujhar showed an unmatched level of determination to be better than he was even the game before. He would continually set goals for himself and do what needed to be done to meet and exceed those expectations. While the World Junior A Challenge was going on in 2010, I remember Jujhar asking me why he wasn't playing in that event. It was obvious that was where his sights were set.

He was selected to represent Team Canada West in the 2011 WJAC held just minutes from his home in Langley, BC. The team went on to win gold and as precious as that medal was, the biggest source of pride came from wearing and getting to keep his Team Canada hockey jersey. After that his next goal was to make the most out of his seventeen year old season and his first year of draft eligibility.

While away at the WJAC, his scoring numbers dropped as he missed a handful of games. When he returned his goal was to climb back up that ladder and be the best seventeen year old in the League ... he achieved that goal as well. Jujhar was so focused at being the best that on many nights he outplayed the 18, 19 and 20 year old players on the ice. It was that work ethic that resonated with the fans in the stands that included NHL scouts on many nights.

Now that Jujhar has achieved his goal of hearing his name called in the NHL Entry Draft, I can safely say that his next goal will be to play his first NHL game. I don't see him letting that date be too far away and he will do whatever it is to get there. He will work exceptionally hard at his next stop on the path to fully realizing his dreams ... I just hope that is at Michigan Tech with the Huskies, but that is something for another blog.

It has been interesting over the course of the past few days to see the pictures, watch the videos and read the articles on Jujhar Khaira, a simple Google search will pull up a few pages of results. I have included one here that I was unaware of previously but sums up Jujhar from the perspective of a hockey fan in Prince George ... thank you Ben Berland.

The story of Jujhar Khaira is a tale of never giving up and making the most of your opportunity.

Khaira came to the Prince George camp in 2010 as a result of a Spruce Kings scout who insisted they take a look. The Kings likely thought at best they would give the kid a taste of a junior A camp, send him back to Tier 2 Midget hockey and try again in a year.

Like many, my first thoughts of this young lad were, "too small, too slow, and not strong enough." That was in the fall of 2010 watching him at PG Spruce Kings main camp, as he skated about the ice with a wide track stance, some touch around the net, and a relentless determination. At the time, I thought that determination would not make up for the lack of size and strength. Boy was I wrong.

After two days, Khaira was signed to a card and didn't have to make the trip back down south. Good news for a kid who was never once considered for a spot on a lower mainland BC Major Midget Hockey League squad. His story of being passed over is eerily reminiscent of another BC player, Cam Neely. Perhaps the Kings took a look at his father's size (6'4"), his athletic background (talented volleyball player when younger), and decided to give 6' Khaira a chance. Perhaps they saw the determination and saw a player who totally wants the puck on every shift, particularly in the big moments of a game, but is totally a team player.

The young man drafted by the Oilers 63rd overall, became a player in the short two seasons with the Spruce Kings. The Kings play in the BC Junior Hockey League, which is considered by many to be one of the top Junior A leagues in Canada. To play in Prince George is somewhat of a struggle as your nearest opponent is a mere 7 hour bus ride away. If you are going to play here, you must be committed.

The next time I saw Khaira was March 9 2012 as the Kings were trying to stop the juggernaut known as the Penticton Vees and their 42 game winning streak (As my luck would have it, they would break the streak the next night when I wasn't there.)

Khaira was now 6'2", and a runaway freight train. His real strength is on the fore check, in which he uses both his size and his skating ability to the max. Although he doesn't possess incredible foot speed, his read and react skills are excellent, which can be an exceptional hockey skill to have (easier to teach foot speed than read and react particularly with older players).Wide track skater that reminds me of Kent Nilsson (for all you old timers out there), or Milan Lucic. Has good stickhandling skills and prefers to play the role of playmaker more than shooter. Shooting is excellent, and will shoot when needed, but prefers the pass.

The game I saw, he played in all situations and was put out particularly when the Kings started in their own zone. His real strength is in the offensive zone, but he can play all three zones sufficiently. Mentally, Khaira has an exceptional mind that seems to master new skills, tactics, and systems very quickly. He is a player who can fit into any system and master it quickly.

Sources tell me that he is an exceptional student in school, and an exceptional young man off the ice. I think he is the kind of kid who would stay in college for the full four years, but would consider a jump to the pros if the right situation presented itself.

Locals have commented that many a night, many NHL scouts were in Prince George (can't figure out any other reason for them to be here), and many of them were quite impressed with Khaira. Locally, the other players that come to mind when comparing Khaira, are Brett Connolly (Tampa Bay) and Ryan Howse (Calgary Flames system). Personally I see a high water mark of someone like Dave Bolland of Chicago, or a low water mark of Darcy Hordichuk. Khaira has the type of determination, adaptability, and work ethic to make the jump to the Oilers one day and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he did.

My only beef is that they next time I go to watch Khaira play; it will cost me more than $12!

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