By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips have taken a big step toward adding a major impact player up front.
On Friday the Tips announced that highly regarded power forward Jujhar Khaira will attend Everett’s training camp, which begins Thursday.
Khaira, a 19-year-old from Surrey, B.C., who was playing for Michigan Tech University, came into play for the Tips when he signed a professional contract with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers earlier this month, thus forfeiting his NCAA eligibility. He’s been on Everett’s protected list since the Tips acquired his rights during the 2012 Western Hockey League bantam draft.
Khaira’s presence at Everett’s training camp significantly increases the odds he’ll be suiting up for the Tips this season.
“We’re extremely excited he’ll be in camp,” said Everett general manager Garry Davidson, who spoke with Khaira over the phone twice over the past week. “Six to eight weeks ago it didn’t look like he was ever going to play for us. Now it looks like there’s a very good chance he’ll play for us.”
Khaira is a player who has both size (6-foot-3, 198 pounds) and skill. He had a solid freshman season at Michigan Tech, where he had 24 points (six goals, 18 assists) in 37 games to finish tied for third on the team in scoring. The season before he had 79 points (29 goals, 50 assists) in 54 games as a 17-year-old with the British Columbia Hockey League’s Prince George Spruce Kings. The Oilers made him a third-round pick in the 2012 NHL draft.
Khaira was expected to return to Michigan Tech for his sophomore season before he signed with the Oilers last week.
“I’d been communicating with his agent on a regular basis, and I reached out to him personally around the NHL draft (in June),” Davidson said. “At the time he said he was staying the course and would be back in school for another year. But then things changed. I received word a week before (Khaira signed) that talks were going on. We’re looking forward to giving him the chance to be a part of our program.
“He’s a big, strong and very experienced player,” Davidson added. “He played two years of junior A and did very well there, then had a very solid year in college. He plays a 200-foot game, he’s good on both sides of the puck. He’d add tremendous depth to our left side, no question about it.”
There was initially some confusion about where Khaira was eligible to play this season. A player drafted out of the WHL isn’t eligible to play professionally in the minors until his 20-year-old season, while players who are drafted out of the NCAA are not subject to the minor-league age restrictions. Therefore, it was originally believed Khaira could play for Edmonton’s American Hockey League affiliate, thus decreasing the chances he’d end up in Everett.
However, Khaira technically wasn’t drafted out of the NCAA, he was drafted after completing his season with the Spruce Kings. According to Davidson, players drafted out of Canadian junior A leagues, like the BCHL, are subject to the same rules as those drafted out of the WHL. Therefore, Khaira can play only for Edmonton or Everett this season.
It’s not an ironclad certainty Khaira will play for the Tips as he still could earn a spot with the Oilers. After attending camp with the Tips, Khaira will join Edmonton’s entry in the Young Stars Tournament on Sept. 5-9 in Penticton, B.C. After that he will attend training camp with the Oilers with the intent of earning a roster spot. But Khaira is considered a longshot to stick with Edmonton.
Khaira is just the latest exciting camp confirmation for the Tips. Earlier this month the Tips confirmed that both of their picks in this year’s Canadian Hockey League import draft, 17-year-old Finnish forward Waltteri Hopponen and 17-year-old Russian forward Ivan Nikolishin, will attend camp. Nikolishin, a second-round gamble, was not considered a likely candidate to report.
The possible additions of Khaira, Hopponen and Nikolishin could go a long way toward addressing Everett’s biggest area of concern. Last season Everett’s 171 goals in 72 games were the fewest in the WHL. Any of the three would be expected to have an offensive impact this season.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.