18
Photo Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

At Random: The Little Guy

I still have my doubts rookie Kailer Yamamoto is ready for NHL primetime with the Edmonton Oilers, despite being one of the best storylines of pre-season (because he hasn’t looked the least bit out of place). I’ve seen enough, though, to know I want to see him get a crack against some actual NHL line-ups. At the very least, I think he’s earned that much.

Yamamoto, who celebrates his 19th birthday Friday, didn’t play in a 6-2 waltz over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, but the pint-sized prospect has created a real buzz with four goals and an assist in the three games he has played. Yamamoto survived another roster cut on the weekend, which has people wondering if he’s ready to make the jump from the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL.

Despite his diminutive stature, the five-foot-eight (maybe), 150-something pound right winger has turned some heads with his skill level, nose for the puck and willingness to go to the tough areas. The thing is, he hasn’t yet done it against a full NHL roster. That doesn’t mean he can’t do it, only that he hasn’t. I’d like to see him get that chance to start the season — if for no other reason than to get a better handle on where he’s actually at.

“No,” Oilers’ coach Todd McLellan answered when asked by Terry Jones if he’d seen enough in pre-season to make definitive calls on how ready Yamamoto and sophomore Jesse Puljujarvi are or aren’t. “We haven’t been there yet. It’s been good for them to face this level of competition to this point because it gives them time to feel confident. It gives them time to feel like they belong . . . “

If he gets a handful of games to start the regular season, maybe Yamamoto will push the issue and continue to shine. More likely than that, he’ll come down to earth a bit when the games and the rosters are real. That’s OK. There isn’t one negative in having him return to Spokane and continue to grow and get stronger if that’s how it plays out. The wrench in that look-see scenario is where to play him? If he’s not in the top-nine, what’s the point?

RUSSELL AND BENNING

April 4, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Matt Benning (83) and defenseman Oscar Klefbom (77) help goalie Cam Talbot (33) defend the goal against Los Angeles Kings right wing Dustin Brown (23) during the second period at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

We know that the Oilers are going to start the season without Andrej Sekera while he recovers from knee surgery and there’s no doubt that’ll test depth on the blueline. Through the two games he’s played, I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Kris Russell, who looks more comfortable back playing the left side, where he’ll start the season alongside Matt Benning as the second pairing. McLellan has liked what he’s seen from Russell and Benning, too.

“I thought in the games he’s played he’s been tremendous,” McLellan said of Russell after the victory over the Jets. “He’s been on his toes, moving pucks, closing really quick, doing some really good things. I thought Matt Benning, in both games he played, he waded his way in a little bit and then got better as the night went on. Matt does slide the (blue) line well offensively. He gets a lot of his pucks through to the net. They’re not necessarily slappers, but good, quick wristers that find seams to the net. You could see that tonight and he’s effective when he’s doing it.”

Obviously, Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson are going to log the most and the toughest minutes once the regular season begins, but with Sekera out, McLellan will be leaning on Russell and Benning a lot — even more than you’d like at this point in Benning’s career. If Benning, 23, is going to get the kind of minutes it looks like he will with just 62 NHL games on his resume, the best place for him under the circumstances is beside Russell, a veteran of 641 games.

WHILE I’M AT IT

  • Still with Russell, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a big bump in his offensive numbers this season. Russell (and Benning) will get an opportunity to pick up some of the slack left by Sekera. While I don’t think we’ll see a return to the production Russell managed with Calgary in 2014-15 (4-30-34), I can see him in the range of 20-25 points. He had just 1-12-13 last season.
  • There’s no disputing that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has too big a ticket at $6 million per to be a third-line centre, but it’s not my money, so let’s see what he can do behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in the three-spot down the middle. That position was so devoid of actual NHL players too often in recent years, I’ll happily take some depth there until GM Pete Chiarelli gets busy.
  • If there’s a better fourth-line centre in the league than Mark Letestu, I can’t think who it is. Specifically, I can’t think of another fourth-line guy who is as good an option on the power play as Letestu. While he’s 32, Letestu might prove to be the guy who makes RNH expendable at some point.

GET AWAY WITH CAREFREE RV

At Carefree RV, we are your family, friendly owned and operated Edmonton RV dealer who values every guest walking through the doors.Stay carefree with payments as low as $67 bi-weekly and live a happy fun-filled lifestyle while camping with family and friends. Call us today to inquire about our 2017 Inventory Blowout  Sale… and as a proud partner of Oilersnation, we are happy to offer FREE winter storage* for two full years (not just one) as part of our partnership.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

  • RyanCoke

    Remember when Taylor Hall and Ryan Smythe were centres… I am so glad we have 4 centerman who are actually centerman. Our depth down the middle is finally here for at least 1 season(RNH unknown after that). I am kinda scared and excited about the upcoming revolving door. Hopefully we become that team that good veterans take a 1 year discount to try to win a cup.

  • cmandev77

    Edmonton has the best centre’s in the league right now. Connor McDavid is a top 2 centre, LD is a top 5 number 2 centre, I would dare to say the Nuge is the best 3c in the league and Letestu is in the top 3 of 4c’s. Depth feels SO GOOD!

  • deferoiler

    Yammy defentily deserves to play a full nhl roster. I tend to agree that if hes not in the top 6 theres no point in playing hin. Im fine with both puljiarvi and yammy getting sent down and having them mature. A RW deoth chart of yammy and JP in their prime with Connor and Leon makes me gitty

  • madjam

    Two positions are open on RW seeing as Draisaitl appears to have moved to center and Eberle traded . Yam and Jesse appear to have the best long term ceiling of all those competing for those top 2 RW positions . Are either a better option than Caguilla, Strome , Slepy , Kassian and Pakarinen right now is the question ? None of them close , by looks of it , close to replacing the skill and talent left void by Leon and Eberle moving out of RW position from the incumbents . Jokinen replacing Pouliot , while Khaira has inside track on Hendriks departure . RW a battle ground , and I would not rule out either 19 year old stealing a spot . If we keep incumbents we will not have as strong a RW side compared to what we had last season .

  • OriginalPouzar

    I remain convinced that Chia lost big time on the Russell contract – he lost on AAV (cap hit), term and trade protection. O for 3.

    With that said, Chia wanted the player and he’s here and, frankly, he is an important part of the team.

    As anticipated and predicted, he has, so far, been much more effective on the left side (as has been his history). If he is able to continue to defend like he did last year but also be a more effective puck mover and in transition, he will be just fine as 2LD.

    I’ve seen him make plays transitioning the puck and at the offensive blue line that he would not have been able to make on the other side of the ice. He’s had a few seasons at 30 plus points so there is more offensive instincts there.

    His increased effectivness on the left side as far as moving the puck out our zone WITH POSSESSION is material for the team’s success this year if he’s going to play top 4 ES minutes, which he will.

  • smiliegirl15

    I really like Matt Benning’s game. So nice to see him succeeding in a supportive environment. Just goes to show how far this team has come from rushing kids and the AHL defense they skated for far too long.

    • Thailand Oilfan

      I wouldn’t quite say “ever”, Messier, Kurri, Coffey, Anderson, Fuhr were all pretty smart picks. But I would agree that since then these have the potential to be 2 of the smartest picks.