Surrey’s Jujhar Khaira (left) of the Edmonton Oilers battles with Alex Friesen of the Vancouver Canucks during the Young Stars competition in Penticton.

Stars shine in Penticton

NHL prospects Nic Petan, Jujhar Khaira take to the ice

Those who question the Winnipeg Jets’ decision to draft Nic Petan probably weren’t in Penticton last weekend.

Drafted in the second round (43rd overall) of last June’s NHL Entry Draft, the North Delta native impressed onlookers with his play at the Young Stars Classic. Skating with other Jets prospects at the five-day competition at the South Okanagan Events Centre, the 5’9” centre showed he can play well in an offensive role at the professional level.

Petan scored one goal, a nifty forehand deke against the Edmonton Oilers prospects Saturday night, and added two assists at the Jets won two of three games to finish among the offensive leaders for Winnipeg.

“My play has been good,” he said after Saturday’s 7-2 win over the Oilers. “I’m just trying to keep my game simple, and make some plays out there. It’s going pretty good so far.”

The biggest concern of his detractors is his size, something that Petan quickly dismisses and his coaches don’t seem to concerned about.

“In my own head, I think of myself as a six-two guy out there,” Petan said. “I play to my advantage, get around the bigger guys. I felt great, the size didn’t bother me.”

He won’t win many battles using his body, but doesn’t shy away from work along the boards. With a quick stick he was able to get the puck from opponents and quickly lead a rush up ice.

“He and (linemate) J.C. (Lipon) have some real good chemistry between the two of them in a short period of time,” said Keith McCambridge, the St. John’s Ice Caps head coach who was behind the Jets bench in Winnipeg. “They’re hard to play against as to how they move. They’re small and elusive for those defencemen to hold them in the corners.”

Petan was among the top scorers in major junior hockey last season, scoring 46 times and totaling 120 points  for the Portland Winterhawks to share the Western Hockey League’s scoring championship with linemate Brendan Leipsic. He added another nine goals and 28 points in 21 playoff games, leading the Winterhawks to the WHL championship. He followed that up with one goal and nine assists in five games at the Memorial Cup, at which Portland fell 6-4 to the Halifax Mooseheads in the championship game.

He showed some of his offensive flair in Penticton while playing against professional prospects, saying the level of competition was just a bit better than what he experienced in junior.

“In these games, you don’t notice much of a difference,” he said. “Obviously there’s some bigger guys out there and it’s a bit faster, but it’s pretty similar for now.”

As a 19-year-old, playing minor pro hockey isn’t an option for Petan. Unless he makes the NHL roster of the Jets, something Petan concedes is a longshot this season, he’ll likely be back with the Winterhawks in a couple of weeks.

“Obviously I’m trying to make the team (Jets),” he said when asked what he expects from the coming season. “But probably I’ll be back in Portland for another year. The goal will be to get back to the Memorial Cup again, and play the same way I did last year.”

– Cloverdale Minor Hockey product Jujhar Khaira was also at the Young Stars competition, lining up at centre against Petan Saturday night as a member of the Edmonton Oilers prospects.

Drafted in the third round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft (63rd overall) from the Prince George Spruce Kings of the BC Hockey League (BCHL), Khaira spent last season with the Michigan Tech Huskies of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

He signed with the Oilers this past offseason, bringing his brief collegiate career to an end.

Suiting up in an Oilers uniform for the Young Stars weekend, Khaira got off to a slow start but was pleased with his play in the end. He finished the tournament with one goal in three games played, and his six shots on goal tied for third on the team.

“My first game, I thought was a slow start for me. In the first period, I thought I was slow and getting beat in battles and on face-offs,” he said after Saturday’s loss to the Jets. “But as the tournament went on, I started getting better and feeling more comfortable.”

Khaira, unlike Petan, can be sent to the American Hockey Hockey League as a 19-year-old after the main camp now underway in Edmonton. The Oilers also have the option of asking Khaira to play a season of major junior hockey with the Everett Silvertips, who acquired his playing rights in the offseason.

“It’s too early to say right now,” he said when asked where he expects to play. “It’s wherever Edmonton feels I would develop the most.”

Having moved from Junior A hockey in the BCHL to the professional ranks in just two seasons, Khaira has had to make an adjustment.

“It’s a different kind of game,” he said of the competition in Penticton. “Here, everyone can move the puck and everyone is strong. Every player is here for a reason. They’re all good at what they do and they all have a role to play.”

Surrey North Delta Leader

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