There was a point in the preseason when Everett head coach Dennis Williams had to pull Sahvan Khaira aside and remind him of something.
“Remember your strengths and what got you here,” Williams recounts telling Khaira.
Khaira, who was acquired in the offseason in a trade with Swift Current, wasn’t playing like the sturdy, shut-down, top-four defenseman that the Silvertips saw playing for the Broncos in the 2018 WHL Finals. He was putting added pressure on himself, pressing the puck up the ice and adding extra zip to every pass.
The Langley, British Columbia native was anxious for good reason. Khaira is one of Everett’s two overage players in 2018-19 and was immersed in an unfamiliar dressing room with new teammates and coaches. And in his last season in the WHL, Khaira hopes he positions himself to hang on with an NHL team.
“That would be insanely important to me,” Khaira said. “That’s my end goal and I really want that to happen. I’m here in Everett to do what I can to make it to that point.”
Khaira, the younger brother of former Silvertip forward and current Edmonton Oiler Jujhar Khaira, has participated in NHL camps with the Oilers and Canucks, but has not been drafted since he was eligible in 2017.
Williams confided in him that he shouldn’t fixate on that on a daily basis. Because if he plays his game, it will take care of itself.
“What happens is a lot of these guys feel the pressure and they feel like they have to do too much, so they hurt themselves and the team,” Williams said. “It was a simple talk because he’s very receptive.”
After Swift Current’s Memorial Cup run, many of its key contributors and its entire coaching staff opted for greener pastures and the club was in complete rebuild mode. Everett general manager Garry Davidson pounced on the opportunity to not only bring in a seasoned defenseman, but a great presence in the dressing room and a well-liked teammate.
Davidson got to know Sahvan and the rest of the Khaira family during Jujhar’s stint with the Silvertips, and thought he would be a good fit with Everett.
When Davidson approached Williams and told him they were in the middle of pursuing a trade for Khaira, especially after facing him in the WHL Finals, Williams responded: ‘Go get ‘em.”
“He was mean,” Williams said. “I don’t think many guys wanted to put pucks in his corner during that series, especially in Swift Current up there in that little rink.”
The price for Khaira was fairly steep, with Everett shipping back forward Ethan O’Rourke and a third-round pick in the 2020 draft. But it brought a familiar name of a former star back to Everett, as the elder Khaira scored 43 points in 59 games for the Silvertips.
Khaira embraced the move to Everett with open arms.
“Honestly, (it was) not weird at all for me,” Khaira said. “It’s a new year, so fresh start. I thought of it that way going into it. … It’s a good fit. My parents can come down and watch. It’s good to be close to home.”
The younger Khaira has never been a prolific goal-scorer or point-compiler. In four WHL seasons between Seattle and Swift Current, Khaira has potted nine goals and 57 points. But he adds a physical presence to Everett’s back end, much like Ondrej Vala provided to the Silvertips when he was acquired from Kamloops in January.
Khaira added that Everett was an appealing destination for his final WHL season because of its reputation for stingy, disciplined play in the defensive zone.
Williams is confident there’s a spot for a player like Khaira in the NHL or AHL. And he’s excited to help him achieve his dream.
“He’s just an honest player,” Williams said. “(He’s got) great, high-end character. He’s a complete warrior out there, just a competitor. He doesn’t take himself out of the game with undisciplined penalties, so he’s toeing that fine line playing net front and being physical.
“It’s fun coaching guys that want to be a pro, because that’s our job here, to develop guys into pro hockey players.”