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The Copper And Blue 2021 Top 25 Under 25: #4 Kailer Yamamoto

The freshly signed RW slips back a few spots after a somewhat stagnant 2020-21 season, at least against expectations.

Edmonton Oilers v Winnipeg Jets - Game Four Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

Kailer Yamamoto checks in at #4 in this year’s Top 25 Under 25 after a 2021 season that saw his production level off from the year prior. This marks the first time he’s slid in our rankings since debuting at #11 in 2017.

Rankings

2021 C&B Staff Rank 2021 C&B Reader Rank
2021 C&B Staff Rank 2021 C&B Reader Rank
4 4

Yamamoto was drafted 22nd overall in the 2017 entry draft after a spectacular WHL season in Spokane, where he collected a gaudy 42-57-99 in 65 GP. He parlayed that into a successful camp and actually made the Oilers, getting his first cup of coffee in the 2017-18 season, to the tune of nine games and an 0-3-3 line before being sent back to junior. He spent a bunch of that time alongside Connor McDavid, and despite posting solid underlying numbers together, they weren’t able to translate it into goals quickly enough for Yamamoto to stick around for the season. His production back in Spokane was excellent once again as he managed to increase his points per game to 1.6 in his D+1 season, up from 1.52 the year before.

Another, albeit longer, cup of coffee came in 2018-19, but Yamamoto was sent down to Bakersfield by November and played more games in Bakersfield than Edmonton. His numbers were more encouraging in the former, but still he was outside the regular NHL rotation to begin the 2019-20 season. To that point, he’d collected 1-4-5 in 26 NHL GP. Not exactly blowing the doors off, but his skills — forechecking like he invented it with enough skill to trade pucks with a couple of MVPs — were evident even then.

Still, Yamamoto earned a call-up in December (after posting 8-8-16 in 23 AHL GP) and immediately found a home, as part of what became arguably the best line in hockey down the stretch with Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. His production exploded, he collected 11-15-26 in just 27 GP and his line got the better end of the fancies most nights. To this day, Oilers fans are left wondering why Dave Tippett decided to get away from it in the bubble, where the Oilers were swept and Yamamoto went pointless.

But it was a successful step forward for Yamamoto nonetheless, and he peaked at #2 in last year’s Top 25 Under 25. Expectations were quite high after such a positive campaign. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to find the same rhythm this season. He was shuffled around the lineup — albeit mostly in the top six and mostly beside at least one MVP for a good chunk of his minutes — but wasn’t able to replicate his offensive success. Perhaps more concerning was that his partnership with Draisaitl fared much worse by the underlying numbers, with that line getting outshot and out chanced more often than not.

This year, Yamamoto figures to play a top-six role in one of the deepest forward groups the Oilers have boasted in the past 15 years. He likely won’t see much power play time, but over the past two seasons he’s third on the Oilers in 5v5 P/60 with 1.95 so he might not need it to meaningfully contribute. It remains to be seen whether that number represents his true talent level, but this season will go some way to helping us figure that out.

(Try not to pay too much attention to Ceci. Look at Yamamoto sniping.)