|Jujhar Khaira (photo by Getty Images)
Deciding to forego his NCAA hockey career after one season and take a more direct path towards his NHL dream was a tough choice for Oilers prospect Jujhar Khaira, but one he felt he was ready to make.
Khaira, a power forward selected 63rd overall by Edmonton at the 2012 NHL Draft, signed his three-year entry-level contract with the team on Wednesday after spending the past season competing as a freshman with the Michigan Tech Huskies in the NCAA's Western Collegiate Athletic Association.
"It's a great feeling, very exciting," Khaira said of inking his first professional deal. "It's a dream come true, but at the same time I still know there's a lot of work to be done. Signing a contract is one thing and making the team is another. I'm doing everything I can to get ready for (training) camp."
Rather than returning to the Huskies as a sophomore this coming season, Khaira accepted the ELC offer from the Oilers and is looking to make his pro hockey debut in 2013-14. He could also potentially play in the Western Hockey League for the Everett Silvertips, who hold his major junior rights.
"It was a really hard decision, but I feel like I made the right one," he said of leaving the NCAA after one year. "It felt great to have a NHL contract offered to me, and after having discussions with my advisor and my parents, I just felt I was ready."
His college stats certainly support his decision, as the 6'3", 189-pound winger had a solid first season, ranking third on the Huskies in scoring with 25 points in 37 games. Khaira played for the Prince George Spruce Kings of the British Columbia Hockey League in 2011-12, tallying 79 points in 54 games.
"It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot," the Surrey, B.C. native said of his time at Michigan Tech. "It was one of the best years I've had in hockey. It took me a few games to get used to the pace, but once I did I felt like my game got a lot better. I had a lot of support around me, a lot of good players who helped me make the transition. I thought my game improved a lot."
With his ELC now complete, Khaira can focus exclusively on preparing for Oilers Rookie Camp coming up in four weeks. He is training daily close to home in the Greater Vancouver Area and said he is spending a lot of time working on his foot-speed and power.
"I'm going to camp with the mindset that I have a chance to make the team, and we'll see what happens," said Khaira, adding he's looking forward to playing at the Young Stars Classic (Sept. 5-9 in Penticton, B.C.) against top Flames, Canucks and Jets prospects. He said he'll have plenty of family members and friends in the crowd, since Penticton is only a few hours away from the GVA.