June 29, 2012
Oilers' Kharia gains following
By ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency
EDMONTON - Jujhar Khaira might not think it’s a big deal to be an East Indian in the Edmonton Oilers system, but a lot of East Indians do.
On Twitter, in autograph lines and just about everywhere else they can sneak a peek or get in a word of encouragement, Khaira’s fan club is bursting with proud new members.
After Nail Yakupov he is the Oilers prospect fielding the most interview requests since last weekend’s draft in Pittsburgh.
“I kind of expected it,” said the 18-year-old winger from the B.C. Junior Hockey League, who was hit with a wave of attention the moment Edmonton took him in the third round. “All the mentions I’ve been getting on Twitter, and so much media have been asking for interviews, so right from then you kind of expect it.
“I don’t mind, it’s nice to have the support. It’s kind of welcoming to come into Edmonton and you know there’s people behind you.”
Being a trailblazer of sorts doesn’t matter much to Khaira, but his heritage clearly matters to a lot of other people.
“That’s one of the main questions that comes up,” he said. “It is significant, there haven’t been many South Asians to do this.”
But Khaira remains rather nonchalant about the whole situation. Maybe because he was born in Surrey, B.C., which makes him a full-on Canadian, and he been skating since he was a child. It’s not like he learned to play hockey on the sand lots of Delhi.
Nevertheless, a lot of South Asians are proud to see one of their own moving up the hockey charts, especially in Edmonton.
If he ever plays for the Oilers he’ll be an instant cult hero. In fact, he already is.
“This would be an awesome place to play, there’s a big South Asian community over here,” he said. “Over Twitter you can see how many people are following me and congratulating me. They’re so happy for me and I’ve never even met them, so it is strong here.”
It is in B.C., too, and Khaira hasn’t even been home yet to experience that reception, having flown straight from the draft in Pittsburgh to Edmonton for the development camp.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in all the way yet,” he said. “I think when I see all of my family, my grandparents and relatives that’s when it will finally sink in. Maybe I’ll have a party or something.”
In the meantime, the jump in quality from Junior A to an NHL prospects camp is the focus of all his attention.
“During the summer I’ve been skating with guys who are playing at higher levels and I’m glad because this pace is a lot faster than Junior A,” he said.
“In junior I was the tallest forward (at 6-foot-3) and you come here and there are at least six or seven other guys who are bigger than me and stronger than me. It’s a lot different.
“Everybody here wants to make it to the next level and is a lot more serious. In junior there are guys who pack it in and are just there for the fun.”
Not that this isn’t.
“It’s been a lot of fun here. All the guys are great, really friendly, easy to get to know. Just the treatment we’re getting here with the Oilers is great, I’ve never experienced anything like it at all.”
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