Surrey’s Jujhar Khaira now plays in the NHL with Chicago Blackhawks after six seasons with Edmonton Oilers, the team that drafted him a decade ago. (Photo: twitter.com/nhlblackhawks)

Surrey’s Jujhar Khaira now plays in the NHL with Chicago Blackhawks after six seasons with Edmonton Oilers, the team that drafted him a decade ago. (Photo: twitter.com/nhlblackhawks)

NHL HOCKEY

Surrey’s Khaira feels ‘great’ after surgery ended his first Blackhawks season, marred by huge hit

The home game on Dec. 7 wasn’t a fun one for the 6-foot-4 forward, who grew up in Port Kells

Jujhar Khaira’s first year with the Chicago Blackhawks wasn’t a great one for him, for a couple of reasons, but he says he’s feeling well now and is ready for the NHL season ahead.

The Surrey-raised forward had season-ending back surgery in February, and two months before that he was knocked unconscious by a scary mid-ice hit in a home game against New York Rangers.

The 1994-born Khaira, 28, finished the season on injured reserve, but skated with the Blackhawks during the final week of their season.

He spent the summer in and around his White Rock home, got his back rehabbed with local specialists and skated with fellow pros at Planet Ice Coquitlam.

“I feel really good and put in a lot of work this summer, and after the surgery last February,” Khaira said in a phone call from Chicago on Friday (Sept. 23), on Day 3 of Hawks training camp.

“I feel great. It’s nice to be healthy and able to compete with these guys and be in the dressing room, not away from the group doing your own thing.”

Khaira said his back “got bad over time,” and in February “it was just time to get the surgery done,” he said. “Now, looking back, it was definitely smart to do it then and be ready for training camp now and feeling good again.”

Signed as a free agent by the Blackhawks in July 2021, Khaira had previously played six seasons with Edmonton Oilers, the team that drafted him in 2012 in the third round, 63rd overall.

With Chicago last season, stats posted to nhl.com show he scored three goals in 27 games.

The game on Tuesday, Dec. 7 wasn’t a fun one for Khaira, who was stretchered off the United Centre ice and hospitalized after being hit by Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba. Skating in his own zone, Khaira was attempting to take a pass near the blueline when he was sent horizontal in a heartbeat.

STORY CONTINUES BELOW TWEETS

“I’ve never seen a hockey player hit this hard,” Chicago-area photographer Armando Sanchez posted on Twitter, where debate raged whether the hit was clean or a head-shot delivered by Trouba, but Khaira won’t comment about that.

“You know, I think everyone has their own opinions about the hit, and it’s definitely part of the game and something that can happen, and unfortunately it was my time to take a hit like that,” he said.

“I actually handled that concussion situation pretty well,” Khaira continued, “and I didn’t have any symptoms from that. I’ve seen the video and it definitely looked bad, and I see the concern, but overall from my point of view, it was, I guess, an ugly situation but nothing that kind of lingered on for me. The next day I felt normal, and since then I’ve felt great.”

Concussion protocol led to him missing close to two weeks of action.

“I had to go through tests, and just the way it looked they were more cautious about it,” explained Khaira, who grew up in the Port Kells area and played minor hockey in Cloverdale before making the jump to junior and minor-pro leagues, then the NHL.

In Khaira the Blackhawks have another B.C.-born player on a roster that has included several over the past decade-plus.

Chicago offers a fresh start to the six-foot-four forward, known as a checker with some grit.

“When I played last year it was pretty positive, and the game I play, and I think I’m able to play that game again. I think it’ll be a good year,” Khaira elaborated.

“I love it here (in Chicago), and even when I was in Edmonton and we’d go on road trips, this was always one of my favourite cities to visit. There’s so much to do and the restaurant scene is great, and just being able to play in front of these fans, it’s pretty special.

“The anthem here is something I’ve never heard before, and even with my shortened season last year, it was pretty special to play here. There’s a lot of history, and having guys like (Jonathan) Toews and (Patrick) Kane, they’ve won here and they’re legends here. Meeting those guys and playing alongside them, it’s special.”

The NHL schedule has the Blackhawks playing the Canucks at Rogers Arena a couple of times this season, first on Jan. 24 and again April 6.

”Early on in my career, playing in Vancouver was really, really exciting,” Khaira said, “and it still is exiting to come home, but the best thing is for my parents and family to come out and have them watch me, spend some time with them, either after the game and before, depending how the schedule works out.”

• RELATED Q&A: Surrey’s Jujhar Khaira credits parents for their hard work on his path to NHL.

• READ ALSO, from 2015: Rare Punjabi roots: Surrey rookie Jujhar Khaira jumps to NHL with Oilers.



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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