By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — He was here, and then he was gone. But during his brief cameo, Jujhar Khaira provided a glimpse of what just may be for the Everett Silvertips.
The Tips opened training camp Thursday, and the player who was in the spotlight was one who could be a difference maker.
Khaira, the highly touted potential newcomer, only spent the afternoon in Everett. The 19-year-old power forward drove down from his home just across the border in Surrey, B.C., participated in one practice session, then headed back home, where he will prepare for training camp with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers.
“I just wanted to come and introduce myself, say ‘hi’ to all the coaches and players,” Khaira said.
In the 75 minutes he spent on the ice at Comcast Arena, Khaira gave every indication of being a major impact player at the WHL level. At 6-foot-3, he towered above most of those in his practice group, and he showed a willingness to throw his big body around — something made even more intimidating by his ability to put in a burst of speed. He also displayed a heavy shot with a quick release.
“It was good,” Khaira said about the practice session. “The returnees, from what I saw, are really talented and they play well, so I’m excited.
“I felt a little slow, but I felt I got back into it at the end there.”
A total of 77 players turned out for the first day of Everett’s training camp, which continues through the weekend. Thursday’s on-ice action consisted solely of practice sessions, with scrimmages beginning today. It all concludes with Sunday’s Green vs. Grey game.
Khaira won’t be taking part in any of the rest of training camp, but there’s still a good chance he’ll be back in Everett when the games count. Khaira, a third-round pick in the 2012 NHL draft by Edmonton, played last season at Michigan Tech University. He had a solid freshman season, finishing tied for third on the team in scoring with 24 points (six goals, 18 assists) in 37 games. He seemed set to return for his sophomore season with the Huskies.
However, early in August Khaira decided to sign a professional contract with the Oilers, thus forfeiting his NCAA eligibility.
“I thought it was a good opportunity,” Khaira explained about his decision to sign with Edmonton. “I thought I was ready, there was the timing and I thought it was right. I talked to my parents, my advisor, and we thought it was a good move.
“It was a mutual feeling, no one really approached the other,” Khaira added. “They said whenever I’d like to leave school they’d be ready to offer me a contract, so I just thought it would be after my freshman year.”
Everett could be the big beneficiary of Khaira’s signing. Khaira will play with Edmonton’s entry in the Young Stars Tournament on Sept. 5-9 in Penticton, B.C., then will attend main camp with the Oilers with the intention of earning a roster spot. If he doesn’t, he’ll return to the Tips.
“I’m going to go in there thinking I have a chance to make the team and I’m going to try and take someone’s job,” Khaira said. “But it doesn’t matter what happens, I’m just going to go in there with a good attitude.
“I wouldn’t be disappointed at all (coming back to Everett),” Khaira added. “I’d be excited to get back here and start.”
The presence of Khaira and a handful of other exciting newcomers, as well as the the return of Kevin Constantine as head coach, has created an atmosphere of enthusiasm and optimism around Everett’s training that hasn’t been seen in some time. The past two seasons have been rebuilding ones for the Tips, but the belief is that the time for winning has arrived.
“There’s a lot of excitement going on,” said defenseman Mirco Mueller, who was a first-round pick in this year’s NHL draft by the San Jose Sharks. “There’s a lot of good young players and they really want to help the team and get a good practice level here. The compete level is really high.”
The excitement was on display in many ways, from the majority of the returning players arriving early, to the intensity displayed during Thursday’s practices.
“It was good,” center Manraj Hayer said about the first day of camp. “There was a lot of flow out there. I think guys are all in pretty good shape coming into camp here. It’s a big year for all of us. We have a lot of younger guys and I was pretty impressed with their speed and skills.”
Added Mueller: “It went really well. There are a lot of good young players and I really enjoyed being back on the ice here in Everett. I was excited to get back and get things started.”
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.