Remember the 2016-2017 Oilers season? That was wonderful. We didn’t have injuries, the defense was fine, the goaltending was great, and the powerplay didn’t suck. That year the Oilers were a pad grab away from going to the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Because the team did so well that year, they wouldn’t get to use their first round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft until #22. With that pick, they picked Kailer Yamamoto.
Prior to the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Kailer Yamamoto lit up the WHL with the Spokane chiefs. He scored 99 points in 65 games. Despite being one of the smallest players to ever be drafted in the first round at 5’8 - 154lbs, he was one of the best talents available that year. I still think it’s hilarious that he ended up available at that point. He scored just as much as the top picks, has equal talent, and hockey smarts through the roof. His size scared some people away, but luckily the Edmonton Oilers weren’t bothered by that. At some point, you have to ignore the size and just pick the guy who you know will have a great career.
Or maybe, you don’t ignore his size, you just stop looking at it as a detractor. The way Kailer Yamamoto plays, he doesn’t just work around his small frame, he uses it as an asset. He can get to pucks quickly, get through defencemen, and make his way to the front of the net without anyone noticing he’s doing it. It’s stealth sometimes. I think he would find a way to be one of the best players in the WHL regardless of what size he is, but using what he has so effectively is a tribute to his very best asset: His intelligence.
What have you done for me lately?
Well, he made the Edmonton Oilers out of camp and got to play nine NHL games. That wasn’t supposed to happen, it wasn’t the plan. Last year in camp, there was a RW job opening for Jesse Puljujarvi but no one happened to tell Kailer that. He was one of the very best players in camp, had a fantastic preseason and outright beat Jesse for that job. We all love Jesse now (because he’s great), there’s also no reason for these two to be running for the same job this year, but last year there was, and Kailer won it. That happened.
After scoring 3 points in 9 games — too bad he hit that post and missed a wide open net — he was sent back down to the Spokane Chiefs. He surprisingly started pretty slow down there, only scoring about a point per game. Had an uneventful showing the the World Juniors. By this point, the Edmonton Oilers were also really bad, fans got negative and even Kailer’s slow start was bothering people. Once Yamamoto returned to Spokane however, he went on a tear and stuck it to just about every detractor. For an almost three month period, he was scoring 2 points per game and looked absolutely incredible. He finished the season with 64 points in 40 games and looks to have a great summer.
What does the future hold?:
This one is really hard to say. We’ll see how he plays through camp and preseason, but if it’s what I expect, he’ll make the Oilers roster fairly easily. I’d love to see him on the second line with Leon Draisaitl where the two can be top players for the team.
What’s actually going to happen could be a lot different. The Oilers have a long history (but not reputation) of being completely afraid to use prospects in the NHL. Actually, the whole league has this problem. I can imagine that there is going to be a bunch of humming and hawing about ‘not ready’ while he’s out there lighting up the preseason again, and that the Oilers will do everything in their power to try and justify sending him to the AHL. Especially given that he’s still and ELC slide candidate.
I’m not fully against him being in the AHL, but I also don’t want him sent there without a plan just ‘because’. I thought he made the NHL team last year, he looked great, and a lot of good things were happening when he was on the ice. Whether it was 1st line, 2nd line, or 4th line, he made each of those lines better. The only thing that really held him back, was his shot. It was fairly pedestrian and that seemed to be a big part of why he was sent back to Junior. Well, that and that stupid fear of rushing.
There are two types of skills necessary to be a successful hockey player: Fundamentals, and technicals. As far as positioning, defensive awareness, offensive instinct, and gaining the royal road, Kailer Yamamoto’s fundamentals are completely off the chart. He is excellent with all of them, and those are the hardest things to teach, or correct.
The technicals also incredible, other than that shot. He can pass, deke, stick handle, and skate with the best of them. But even with the shot, if that’s not hurting the team, I don’t see a reason that he can’t work on that in the NHL. The weight rooms are superior, there is lots of ice time in practice, and mostly, other NHL players.
A long ignored part of development is just having prospects on the same ice as the pros. When someone like Kailer Yamamoto sees Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl working on their skills after practice, working on shots, talking attacks, that stuff matters. It shows exactly how much conscious effort is required to be a professional hockey player.
So as for next year. If it were up to me — and he has another great camp — he’d be slotted immediately on the 2nd line and only have himself to blame if he doesn’t hold it down. I’m extremely bullish on him, and don’t think a 55 point season in the NHL is out of the question as early as next year. I will never bet against a player this smart, and with that much skill. I’m also looking forward to getting his Jersey. This is the best non-op-5 pick the Oilers have had in a very, very long time. I think we’ll see him opening night.