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Meet the new Blackhawks: Forward Jujhar Khaira

Khaira, 26, signed a two-year contract with an annual cap hit of $975,000.

Edmonton Oilers v Winnipeg Jets - Game Three
Jujhar Khaira formerly of the Edmonton Oilers plays the puck during first period action against the Winnipeg Jets
Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

I mentioned in the Marc-Andre Fleury article that, because of what the Blackhawks gave up to get him, he was a low-risk, high-reward proposition in net. I think Jujhar Khaira, coming to the Blackhawks on a two-year deal worth $975,000 annually is the same way: if he’s bad, the Blackhawks have plenty of forwards and can bury him in the minors. If he’s good, well, then ... he’s good.

And he can be good. In Khaira’s second full season in the league, he played up in the lineup with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and a combination of Sam Gagner, Jesse Puljujarvi and Zack Kassian (yes, Kassian counted as up in the lineup in Edmonton in 2018-19) and that line was very good, especially when compared to the rest of the Edmonton roster.

Since then, Khaira’s taken on a more depth option role, playing defensive minutes, the penalty kill and playing with lesser linemates. He most commonly shared the ice with Josh Archibald and Tyler Ennis in 2021, and — wouldn’t you know it — that line was not very good.

Khaira is not a point scorer. His career-high is 21 in his first full season, and he scored just 11 last season, including three goals (although again, with those linemates? Hard to blame him). Still, he was on pace for a better season than the previous year, when he finished with 10 points that included six goals.

Khaira makes most of his role when playing defensively, as in the 2019-20 season, which, with a weird 2021 season, is probably more worth investing in. He had positive marks in both shorthanded goals above replacement (1.6) and expected shorthanded goals above replacement (2).

With David Kampf heading to Toronto, Jonathan Toews still being a question mark and a lot of other questions in the bottom six but not a whole lot of effective penalty killers, somebody needs to kill a penalty on this team. Khaira can do that.

So Khaira’s more of a defensive presence, somebody who can play on the fourth line and penalty kill but do so effectively, and with Ryan Carpenter being not particularly bad at forechecking and Henrik Borgstrom (probably at the fourth-line center spot this year) out to prove himself, the line could maintain some good pressure this season.

That’s what the fourth line did last season and that wasn’t bad, even if it almost never ended in scoring — something not likely to change.

Khaira is a large presence, standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 212 pounds and he uses that size often. Although he didn’t have the highest quantity of hits (151 last season, a career-high), Khaira did have the fourth highest rate of hits in the league last season among skaters who played at least 100 minutes at 18.8 per 60 minutes.

Khaira is somebody who can play up and down the lineup, collect the puck on the dump and chase — something the Blackhawks have been rather lacking — and be good in a supporting role. I think a good comparison is Andrew Shaw in his second stint with the Blackhawks, although Shaw may have had a bit more scoring touch:

Still, Khaira isn’t particularly bad, especially at his dollar value, and the Blackhawks need some replacement level, veteran skaters on the fourth line. That’s exactly what Khaira is, as again, he can play well in a depth role and perhaps he sees improvement outside of a bad situation in Edmonton.

Worst case scenario, with the Seattle Kraken taking John Quenneville in the expansion draft, the Rockford IceHogs could use some physical, veteran leadership. That’s something Khaira could replace.

Khaira’s not going to be the problem this season, and after the last few seasons, it’s nice to have a few players like that in the bottom six.