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FEATURE: Khaira sticks up for teammates during career season

Jujhar Khaira is not just playing well, he's also providing an important element to the Oilers as it pertains to sticking up for his teammates

by Chris Wescott / Head Writer

EDMONTON, AB - Jujhar Khaira is one tough kid.

So when his teammate and often times linemate, Iiro Pakarinen, was on the receiving end of a Cal Clutterbuck hit in a game versus the New York Islanders, Khaira was the first responder.

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"It's one of those things where this team is my family," said Khaira after the game. "I was always raised you stick up for your family. Pak is my linemate, we've been playing together the last five or six games, and just ended up being on the ice at the same time and it's just one of those things where guys will do that for me. If I can help out, I will."





The Oilers five-game home stand comes to an end on Saturday against the Minnesota Wild. You can watch the game on CBC and Sportsnet at 8 pm MST, or listen on 630 CHED and the Oilers Radio Network. 


Pakarinen was slow to the bench after a late and illegal cross-check by Clutterbuck, which resulted in a penalty. Later in the period, Khaira and Clutterbuck dropped the gloves for what is now a rare showing of hockey pugilism.

That type of response from Khaira is something that doesn't go unnoticed on the bench and around the locker room. As Khaira threw heavy right after heavy right, energy and emotion surged through his teammates.

"It fires the guys up for sure," said goaltender Cam Talbot. "Usually it's (Zack Kassian), (Milan Lucic), and those guys. But for Jujhar to step up like that, it says a lot about him as a teammate and as person. We expect nothing less from him. He's a great guy and a great teammate. You can see what he does when he drops the gloves, he doesn't get hit too often. He's a big, strong kid. Good on him for challenging Clutterbuck, who is a tough customer."

"It brings the bench up for sure," said defenceman Kris Russell. "He's committed to helping this team in any regard. Especially, as a young guy doing that, it lifts the bench."

Not only did Khaira provide some intangible form of an emotional boost, but the players say it helped them on the ice in terms of team performance as well.

"It was a game where there was kind of not a lot going on. I thought we got better after that, so it was a big turning point," said Khaira.

Perhaps more important than helping wake up a team in a sleepy game, Khaira's defence of a teammate symbolizes something that's key for the Oilers down the stretch.

Seeing players play for one another and defend one another helps tighten the group's bond, which is extremely important in any building of winning culture.

"You show that unity, I think, in a game," said Talbot. "You know you have each other's backs no matter what the situation is."

"It's been a rough year, but we want to build that team chemistry, build that team bond, and make sure we have each other's backs," said forward Drake Caggiula. "We're supporting each other any way we can. (The Islanders game) was just one example but there are plenty of other examples you can go throughout the season and show."

With playoffs not in the picture, Edmonton is in an evaluation period. That term pertains to not just rookies like Ethan Bear - who is enjoying his first NHL call-up and recorded his first NHL point against the Islanders - but also to players like Khaira.

The forward is just 23 years-old and having a career professional season. He has 11 goals through 54 games, a career high at any pro level. It's important for him to continue his forward momentum if he wants to cement his place with the club for years to come.

"I think everybody always has something to prove in this league and you can never be good enough," said Khaira. "It's one of those things where we're trying to build momentum for next year and we've got to come out running next year for sure."

"I've liked his play right from the beginning," said Russell. "He's progressing. He plays hard, he holds onto pucks and obviously he has that where the last game he stepped in for teammates. He's a big part of our team and he'll be a big part going forward."

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