The Minnesota Wild repeatedly use the word grit to describe their team. The Wild didn’t add many players in the offseason, but the ones they added had grit. Jujhar Khaira was Minnesota’s last signing before training camp started. Khaira has a gritty edge to his game and can help fill a depth role. The way it sounds, the Wild have already penciled him in to be the 13th forward on the opening night roster.
The Edmonton Oilers selected Khaira in the third round of the 2012 draft, and he’s played 336 games in eight NHL seasons. Khaira played there for six seasons, starting in the 2015-16 season, but he spent the past two with the Chicago Blackhawks. After nobody offered him a contract this summer, Khaira signed a one-year, two-way deal for $775,000 just before training camp started.
Kharia is only the third player of Punjabi-Indian descent to play in the NHL, following Robin Bawa and Manny Malhotra. Thanks to Matt Dumba, who signed with the Arizona Coyotes in the offseason, the Wild have been involved in initiatives to grow the game of hockey into more diverse communities. Having a trailblazer like Khaira playing on the team may encourage more children from underserved communities to play hockey.
Besides fitting in with the team’s identity, what else does Khaira bring with him? While he averages 15 points when he plays a full season, Khaira is not known for producing points. Last season with the Blackhawks, he produced 14 points (6 goals and 8 assists) in 51 games. He’s only broken the 20-point barrier once. During the 2017-18 season with the Oilers, he had 11 goals and 10 points for a 21-point season. He’s much more of a defensive forward.
Khaira isn’t necessarily fast, but can keep up with the play. He can also play either wing or center, making him more versatile for whatever line he ends up on. Khaira is most notable as a physical player who can use his 6’4”, 212 lbs. size to get in on the forecheck. He occasionally drops the gloves but doesn’t always win the fight.
However, Khaira has an injury history that is hard to ignore, especially back injuries and concussions, which have caused him to miss significant time. After having back surgery, Khaira missed the last 43 games of the 2021-22 season. Then he missed another 26 games during the 2022-23 season for a different back injury. Khaira fixed some of his back issues by focusing on his skating stride and mobility. But he was also stretchered off the ice on December 8, 2021, after a scary collision with Jacob Trouba that knocked Khaira out cold.
So what can Khaira bring to the Wild? First, he’s a depth piece. Some of his issues may not present themselves because Khaira likely will not play a full-time role. However, when he steps in, he can be a physical presence and battle along the boards. Khaira can also kill penalties. At one point, he was one of the best penalty-killers in the NHL.
Where will he fit in the lineup for the Wild? Most likely on the fourth line, allowing someone like Connor Dewar or Brandon Duhaime to move up the lineup. Khaira can play center or wing, so he can slot in for either one, depending on the need further up the lineup.
What will happen when Mason Shaw is healed and ready to return to the NHL? One would assume that the Wild will give Khaira’s spot. But maybe Khaira will be able to impress while Shaw is healing and stick in the NHL. However, Khaira is on a two-way contract, meaning the Wild can send him to Iowa. The only hitch in that plan is that he must pass through waivers. If he’s been playing well, another team could snatch him.
Ultimately, it’s hard to predict what will happen because things change rapidly in hockey. Khaira’s status with the Wild will depend not only on him but also on the other players’ status. With a tight salary cap, Minnesota can do only so much. If Khaira can show them the skills he can do well, perhaps the Wild will reward him with a bigger contract when they have more cap space.
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