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FEATURE: Khaira enters camp out to prove he belongs

Oilers forward Jujhar Khaira comes into camp confident and ready to show he can stick

by Chris Wescott / Head Writer

Video: OILERS TODAY | Net Game

EDMONTON, AB - Jujhar Khaira has had his taste of NHL hockey, and he's ready for more.

It seems like each season the 2012 third-round pick takes another step toward sticking in the NHL. In 2015-16, Khaira saw 15 games of action with the Oilers, while scoring 10 goals and adding 17 assists in 49 games down in the American Hockey League.

In 2016-17, Khaira was an important player for the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, racking up 20 points (8-12-20) in 27 games.

He'd earn another call up and play 10 more games with Edmonton, scoring his first NHL goal on January 16, against the Arizona Coyotes.

"Confident" is the word Khaira uses to describe his state of mind at the start of 2017 training camp.

"It's a lot different, for sure," said Khaira. "Playing last year and being up here for a while last year, you get to know all the staff and the players really well coming in. You come in with confidence."

Khaira was skating on a line with Mark Letestu and Zack Kassian as Group A took the ice at Rogers Place, Friday morning. Although early in camp, it could be considered a nod of recognition to where Khaira is on the organizational depth chart. To be starting camp with two staples of last year's playoff squad is a good sign and a head start.

"Looking back at last year when we played together, we played pretty well," said Khaira. "I'm not trying to read too much into anything, I'm just trying to play my game and stay with those guys. If we can play like we played last year, I don't think we'll have a problem."

At the end of his 2016-17 campaign, Khaira met with the Oilers coaching staff. The feedback was positive. They liked how he got in on the forecheck, how he was reliable defensively and how he skated up and down the ice.

Khaira took that feedback and a list of things to work on to B.C., where the forward trained just outside of Vancouver.

"I focused a lot on my hands in tight areas like offensive play, just being quicker," he said. "I always want to be quicker and faster and keep up with the faster guys. Those are the two main things."

You'll often hear coaches speak of forwards like Khaira and they'll say he needs to play "in straight lines." A game like that can be easily overlooked, but can be a player's niche in the League. For Khaira, it's also his toughness and all-around game that may eventually lead to consistent NHL playing time.

"I have to be a person that provides ice for other players and gets in on the forecheck, someone that's mean that can stick up for other guys," he said. "Just be someone who can chip in offensively when needed and play well defensively and be someone the coaches can trust. Whenever they need me on the ice, they know I'm doing my job."

Solid. Consistent. Reliable. That's Khaira's focus.

He wants to show he can be that kind of player when the games that matter begin.

The Oilers showed enough faith in the 23 year-old that they inked him to a two-year contract extension back in June. While definitely a nice pat on the back, it's his own play last season and his progress this summer that have Khaira confident - perhaps the most confident he's been in his professional career.

"I know I belong this year and I'm going to do everything in my power to prove that."

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