Three years after he was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers, Jujhar Khaira has made the jump to the National Hockey League level.
The 21-year-old from Surrey made his NHL debut Saturday night for the Oilers against the Pittsburgh Penguins, taking 16 shifts and playing 10 minutes in a 3-2 shootout win in Pittsburgh.
“It was a lot of fun,” Khaira told the Edmonton Sun after the game. “It took me a couple of shifts to get in the rhythm and the feel and to realize how much time I had. But I think as the game went on, I felt more comfortable and I started playing my game.”
Khaira began the season in the American Hockey League (AHL) playing for the Bakersfield Condors, the Oilers’ top farm team. He was called up to the Oilers last Thursday afternoon, and played his first NHL game 48 hours later.
Drafted in the third round, 63rd overall, by the Oilers in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft after two seasons with the BC Hockey League’s Prince George Spruce Kings, Khaira went on to play one season of university hockey with the Michigan Tech Huskies and another with the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League.
He turned pro last year, playing 51 games with the Oklahoma City Barons, which was then the Oilers’ AHL farm team, where he scored four times and added six assists.
Wearing an Oilers jersey for his first NHL regular season game, Khaira admitted to being caught up in the moment when the puck dropped in Pittsburgh, realizing he was up against international stars such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“At the start at the game and even when I was on the bench, I would just catch myself looking at one of them, not even watching the play, just looking at one of them,” he said. “You’re thinking, ‘Wow, you’re actually playing against these guys.’ But as you went through the game, they were just other players out there and you have to try to keep yourself from looking bad.”
Khaira played his second NHL game Monday in Toronto, playing seven minutes in a 3-0 loss to the Maple Leafs.