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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Countdown to the season question #14: What to do with Yamamoto?

Entering the Oilers training camp and preseason, the Oilers had very few jobs available. Andrej Sekera’s injury opened a door for a D-man to take the #7 spot on the roster as Eric Gryba moved up to the #6 slot. There were going to be some battles over who would play right wing on which line, but a veteran losing his spot seemed unlikely, especially when the Oilers announced Anton Slepyshev injured his ankle training and wouldn’t be available in the preseason.

However, Kailer Yamamoto’s five preseason goals, which leads the Oilers, have put him in the conversation. Or have they?

The great debate in Oilersnation is what will the Oilers do with Yamamoto?

The young man has lived up to scouting reports as a gifted offensive player who thinks the game well, creates turnovers and has a nose for the net. He has the attention of head coach Todd McLellan and in last night’s 6-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes Yamamoto found himself on Connor McDavid’s right wing for the final 30 minutes. Yamamoto scored a PP goal, skating on the Oilers second PP unit (not with McDavid), and his insistence to show up on the scoresheet has many thinking he is in the conversation to start the season with McDavid.

I’ve learned over the years that preseason evaluations can often lead to premature expectations of players. I’ve seen many players perform well in the preseason, but once the intensity ramps up in the regular season they couldn’t keep up.

There hasn’t been one intense preseason game this season. Legitimate battles for pucks have been a rarity, and I’ve seen very few physical, grinding plays. Players have had more time and space to make plays, and the lack of overall effort and intensity make it extremely difficult to evaluate how new players will handle the rigors of the NHL.

Yamamoto can’t be punished for that. He’s played in the same games as others, and he’s found ways to get noticed and to produce goals and points. He’s shown he knows how to think the game, whether he is playing with Chris Kelly and Iiro Pakarinen, or lining up with McDavid and Patrick Maroon. I don’t think anyone questions his ability to process the game. He hasn’t been noticeably out of position or gone to the wrong areas on the ice.

The question is at age 19 (he turns 19 on Friday), can he handle the physical wear and tear of the NHL? Can he win battles versus veteran NHL players? It’s a more difficult question because of his stature. He is 5’8″ and 155 pounds. I’d focus more on strength versus weight, but you can’t overlook the challenges of playing in the NHL at that age.

We’ve seen many small players succeed in the NHL — Theo Fleury, Martin St.Louis and Johnny Gaudreau — but none were in the NHL at 19.

Fleury debuted at 20 after playing 36 games in the now-defunct IHL. Fleury was fiery and tenacious and highly skilled.

St.Louis was undrafted. He played 13 games when he was 23 years old and became a regular at 25 years of age with Tampa Bay, scoring 40 points in 78 games. He exploded at age 27 with 33 goals and 70 points and became a top scorer for the next decade.

Gaudreau was in college from ages 18-20, playing 40 games a season and working out regularly during the week trying to get stronger. He debuted in the NHL at 21 and he’s averaged 68 points/year in his first three seasons.

We’ve seen small players succeed, and I won’t be surprised if Yamamoto joins the diminutive club, however, I wouldn’t be rushing him. He will always give up size in battles, but he can overcome that with his smarts. He’s done it at every stage of his career thus far, so it won’t be new for him, but battling NHLers at 19 when you’re only 155 pounds and your strength isn’t at maximum output yet will be extremely difficult.

OPTIONS

Sep 18, 2017; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers right wing Kailer Yamamoto (56) controls the puck in front of Calgary Flames goalie Mike Smith (41) during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers could keep him and let him play nine regular season games and see how he performs. If he plays a 10th game they would burn a year of his entry level contract. I don’t see the benefit in doing that. History has proven very few players play at 19, and even fewer are impact players at 19.

What surprises me the most is how for years fans, media and bloggers questioned the Oilers rushing players, but many of those same people want Yamamoto here due to his preseason performance. I don’t believe Peter Chiarelli or Todd McLellan are caught up in the excitement. They are very happy with Yamamoto’s performance and McLellan said some positive comments about him last game, but I still believe they will err on the side of caution with Yamamoto.

I like how Yamamoto has put himself in the conversation. It shows how hungry he is and to date he hasn’t been intimidated. His future looks bright, but I don’t think the present is as dazzling.

The Oilers preseason games have been sloppy, lackadaisical and void of consistent battles along the boards and in front of the net. We know that will change when the game start to count. Milan Lucic summed up the preseason very well earlier in camp. “You know the games don’t mean much, but you still try to work on getting yourself ready. It is difficult at times, because the focus and intensity just isn’t there from different guys at different times.”

We’ve seen it both ways this preseason. When the Oilers went up 3-0 on the Flames at home last Monday, the effort and intensity evaporated. As much as people want it to remain high, it just doesn’t very often during the preseason. The Winnipeg Jets dressed a veteran lineup in Winnipeg last Wednesday, but they didn’t work hard. I’m not sure Dustin Byfuglien broke a sweat.

Last night the Oilers looked like a team wanting to exit the preseason as quick as possible. They did not match the work ethic of the Hurricanes. The entire team wasn’t “into it” and it showed. Frustrating, yes, but not unexpected after watching many years of preseason hockey.

It can be difficult to accurately analyze a player when the quality of competition the effort is not at a regular season level.

23-MAN ROSTER

Sep 20, 2017; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Kailer Yamamoto (56) skates away from Winnipeg Jets defenseman Tyler Myers (57) to make a pass during the third period at Bell MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If the Oilers choose to keep Yamamoto to start the season, how does it impact the roster?

The Oilers will either keep 13 or 14 forwards.

McDavid, Maroon, Leon Draisaitl, Milan Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jussi Jokinen, Ryan Strome, Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu, Drake Caggiula and Jujhar Khaira will be on the roster. That leaves two or three spots, depending if they keep 13 or 14.

Caggiula doesn’t require waivers to be sent to the minors, but I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be on opening night roster. He has 2-2-4 in the preseason and McLellan has used him at all three forward spots and on both special teams in his first season.

So that leaves Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi and Iiro Pakarinen. All three could be on the roster and the Oilers start the season with 14 forwards. Slepyshev didn’t skate with the main group this morning, so it is likely he starts the season on the IR.

That leaves seven spots for D-men.

Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Kris Russell, Eric Gryba, Matt Benning, Darnell Nurse, and either Yohann Auvitu or Mark Fayne. Ryan Stanton hasn’t played since blocking a shot in Winnipeg last week and McLellan has mentioned he liked how he played in Winnipeg on numerous occasions. If he was healthy, the battle for the #7 job would be more intense. Fayne’s contract could work against him, not to mention his foot speed.

If they keep 14 forwards, and both Puljujarvi and Yamamoto are here, it would be odd to have one of them in the pressbox, and I don’t see why both would slot in the right side ahead of either Caggiula or Strome on the right side.

The Oilers could easily keep Yamamoto on the roster to start, but when Slepyshev returns, they would either have to send Puljujarvi or Caggiula down, or expose Pakarinen to waivers. It wouldn’t be wise to potentially risk losing Pakarinen to waivers just so Yamamoto can stay for nine games. Pakarinen is a good depth forward, and if injuries occur he could be a good fill in.

I can understand if the Oilers keep him for a look in the regular season, but I don’t see any reason to keep him longer than nine games. I could see a scenario where he sticks with the team for the first seven games. He might not play in all of them, and when they return from their road trip on Saturday, October 21st, they could reassign him to Spokane and Yamamoto could play his first WHL game of the season in Edmonton versus the Oil Kings on Sunday October 22nd.

He would get a taste of the NHL, even though I don’t believe it is a necessity for a player to succeed in the future, and then join his WHL team in Edmonton and then onto games in Calgary, Medicine Hat and Red Deer.

The other benefit to sending him back this year is the Oilers would have three years of Yamamoto on his entry-level deal for the first three years of McDavid’s contract. Even if Yamamoto reached all his “A” bonuses, he’d only be a $1.775 million cap hit and would have produced 20 goals and 35 assists. They’d be ecstatic with the production to salary ratio.

What do you think the Oilers should do with Yamamoto?

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Shameless Plugger

    I disagree 18-19 year olds aren’t having impacts in the game. In fact quite the opposite is happening. The league is actually trending towards younger players having major impacts. Ie. Laine, Matthews, Mcdavid….. and so on. Players are much better prepared coming into the league than “history suggests”. I think your looking at it backwards Gregor. Maybe ten years ago young players weren’t as impactful, nowadays it’s quite different.

    • Shameless Plugger

      For the record I believe he’s best served going back for contractual reasons only. As the Oilers will need impactful players on the cheap going forward. But the argument that his age and ability to be impactful because of it are backwards in order with the way the league is trending. Sorry but it just is. If history suggests things the way you suggest. grant Fuhr’s save % wouldn’t even qualify him as a backup these days. So history isn’t always the best indicator of the future. Times change and so does history.

    • Jason Gregor

      So you are comparing Yamamoto to those players? You are saying he will average a point-a-game like McDavid or score 36 goals/64 points and 40 goals/69 points because Laine and Matthews did? Help me understand what you are basing that on. How is he the same as those other than age?

      • Shameless Plugger

        I’m not saying Yamamoto is Mcdavid or Matthews or Laine (nice inference though) what I’m saying is refusing to accept the fact a 18-19 year old CAN have an impact on a team -throughout an entire season- is naive and narrow minded- thanks for putting words in my mouth though

        • Jason Gregor

          You used the three best examples, and while you state you aren’t comparing Yama to them, by using them as examples you are in fact saying look who can make an impact. I didn’t say all players couldn’t, but Laine is 6’4, 206 pounds, Matthews is 6’3, 216 pounds and McDavid is 6’1, 190 pounds and they were the three best young forwards in the NHL.

          Yama is 5’8 and 155 pounds, so there is a big difference to him than the three you mentioned. I wrote an entire article on it. I compared him to players of his stature, which at that age is a factor. Being strong enough to handle NHL players will be an issue. The young players are you are more impactful are the ones you mentioned, yes, but do you not understand that by using them as examples of young players who producer, you are INDEED comparing them to Yamamoto, whether you wanted to or not. Had you used guys of his age and stature then it would have been wiser, than using the three-best, which clearly implies he could impact like them.

          Here are the other 19 year old forwards in the NHL last year.
          Anthony Beauvillier 9-15-24 in 66 games. 5’11” and 180
          Pavel Zacha 8-16-24 in 70 games. 6’3″ and 214.
          Travis Konecny 11-17-28 in 70 games. 5’10” and 175.
          Lawson Crouse 5-7-12 in 72 games. 6’4″ and 212.
          Matthew Tkachuk 13-35-48 in 76 games. 6’1″ and 195
          Mitch Marner 19-42-61 in 77 games. 6’0″ and 170

          So who is the best comparisons for age and size. Beauvillier, Konecny and Marner. All are a bit bigger, but not nearly as differing in size.

          Marner is the only example that would be worthwhile having in the NHL and using Yamamoto’s ELC. It would be foolish to waste it on 24 or 28 points like Beauvillier or Konecny in my eyes. Not impactful and any of Caggiula, Slepyshev or Strome should be able to produce 28 points.

          Marner has a great year and he is slight at 170 pounds, which is still 15 more than Yamo.
          Looking at their three years in junior, where they were both 16, 17 and 18.

          Marner played 184 games and produced 96-205-301 points.
          Yama played 190 games and produced 84-143-227 points.

          Marner was an outstanding junior point-producer, and Yamamoto has been very good as well, but there was a gap in junior.

          No one said young players can’t make an impact, but you need to look at more than just age. Size and more importantly strength is a factor. If there a chance Yama can be, yes there is always a chance, but the odds are not in his favour and for me the risk out weighs the reward.

          And some young players are impactful, no one said otherwise, but not all of them and only focusing on the best case scenario is misleading and doesn’t show true impact of ALL 18 and 19 year old forwards.

      • Shameless Plugger

        How obvious it is you say I am comparing him to those players. What a cop out argument. When in fact what I was referencing was your argument against young players being impactful, when clearly ( for at least a few years) the league is headed in that very direction. All I did was provide examples, not comparisons. Young players are more impactful than ever before. To completely discount the fact a young man can have an impact over the course of an 82 game schedule (based on AGE and strength) is ignorant. Don’t know how you can argue that, though in Gregor fashion I’m sure you’ll find a way!!

      • Kurt

        Where does he suggest that he will be a point a game player or that he will get 40 goals/69 points? He clearly says, “The league is actually trending towards younger players having major impacts”. Your comprehension of his paragraph needs some work pal.

    • madjam

      That is generally true due to personnel trainers , technology and coaching the youngsters obtain nowadays . The only time that might be close was the year the WHA melded with the NHL with a plethora of youth transferring over . Several youth every year seems to make the transition smoothly into NHL ranks making major impacts to league and team , and not just the top draft picks all the time either .

    • Kepler62c

      You’re saying you disagree with Gregor’s statement “History has proven VERY FEW players play at 19, and EVEN FEWER are impact players at 19.” – but you’ve based that disagreement on the three best teenagers to enter the league in the last 2 years?? One of whom is considered the best or second best player in the world right now, and the other two will not be far behind him on the scoring charts for the next decade. I think they fall in the category of “very few”.

      Read Gregor’s replies again before you make a fool of yourself, he’s explaining and providing evidence for why your disagreement is unfounded.

  • madjam

    If you look at remaining 19 forwards left in camp it’s not hard to see Yamamoto being in the top 14 . Take out Benson, Ferlin , Malone , Ratti , Kelly and Jesse sent back or let go , then it makes sense Kailer will make the team of 14 forwards . They even have him doing well in penalty kills today . The only question appears to be whom he will be playing with and special team alottments . Pretty tough to make a case over Yam for the six I crossed out is it not .

  • Anton CP

    It is more ideal to keep Yamamoto active down in junior and minor, the Oilers have enough forward depth that has very little reason to rush Yamamoto to NHL yet.

    • Anton CP

      Ok, a few reasons:

      1. The short term forecast. The Oilers have a bit overload on forwards that it is getting tougher to find roster spot for all players. Unless the projection on Yamamoto will be the 30g-60p player then otherwise it is highly unreasonable to even let him play ahead of the current top 9. If the Oilers are not planning to have Yamamoto to play anytime in the near future then it is quite pointless to even let him play trial games at the beginning of the season. He may have some odd chances to get the call up if injuries occurred.

      2. The Oilers forward depth. The current everyday forwards for the Oilers that only 3 are waiver exempts (Slepyshev, Puljujarvi, and…well…McDavid…lol). The only player that he can fight for the roster spot will be Puljujarvi and the question will be that would you believe Yamamoto should start ahead of Puljujarvi?

      3. Contracts. This will also have to be taking into consideration. The Oilers have 7 RFAs contracts to deal with before the beginning of the next season and it has some key players and that is not even including the 6 UFAs. In short, the Oilers will not be offering (or should be) an entry level contract until the soonest, next season. Yamamoto will need lots of playing time then he will be very unlikely to get minutes up in major. Have Yamamoto stay in junior/minor that the Oilers can audition through all the up-coming FAs.

      3. Long term forecast. This will purely be business decision. The high draft pick has lots of values and barring some serious issues happening with Puljujarvi that he will have to be the top RW for the team. I’m predicting that 3 out of 6 players from these group (Nuge, Strome, Caggiula, Maroon, Letestu, and Slepyshev) will be gone by the end of the season. It will be awhile until that Yamamoto can even have a chance to play in the big league so again, no reason to rush Yamamoto just of a few decent preseason games.

  • madjam

    Most of the bloggers here have probably played enough hockey to realize how difficult it can be to play against a smaller skilled elusive player like a Yam with a low center of gravity . They are on you so fast (like a fly to crap) you generally do have not time to think like you would with others your size or better . Trying to hit these slippery small players head on is almost impossible . They are tough to play against , but a treat to have play with your team . They make extreme use of their elusiveness , skill, center of gravity and speed .

    • smiliegirl15

      The very example that came to my mind as well. I think 9 games would be okay for Yama but sending both him and Puljujarvi down wouldn’t be a bad thing for either one.

  • RJ

    This is simple. There were only two Oilers that made sense to keep in their draft +1 years. Taylor Hall won back to back Memorial Cups, so there was nothing more he could do at the CHL level. McDavid was already the best player in the NHL in his 2nd season.

    Is the kid in either of those scenarios? Then send him back.

    • #97TRAIN

      He doesn’t have to be one of those scenarios. He is doing his own thing and if he keeps producing you gotta let him play if not send him back . It’s that simple.

  • O.C.

    Has there ever been a previous pre-season where a diminutive young player showed exceptionately well and had the fans, media, and team convinced this was a can’t miss?

    Yes. Yes there has. Did we forget Vladimir Tkachev already? The Oil tripped over their laces trying to sign this “can’t miss kid” but blew a big fart in the end.

    “Clowns!!!” the fans cried. “We should have drafted him and now he goes back in the draft pool!”

    Well he didn’t get drafted the next year either and now he’s in the KHL.

    The point isn’t that he didn’t make it. The point here is the Oil (and the fans and the media and the blog writers) should all temper the enthusiasm a bit. It is PRE-SEASON and this has a way of making players look NHL ready when they really aren’t.

    Give him a cup of coffee and let him develop another year in junior.

    • madjam

      Tkachev is 5ft. 10 inches , but still plays at 144lbs. for Vladivostok Admirals of the KHL . Their team does well and Tkachev their top player . Surprisingly , 5 of their top scoring players are basically 143 lbs. to 160 lbs. and all under 6 feet . It would be quite a stretch to put Vladimir in same category as Kailer .

      • madjam

        A better spot would be comparing him to the smaller 5ft. 7 inch 157 lbs. Johnny Gaudreau , that frankly was no where near as good or diverse as Kailer was at 19 . Gaudreau at roughly same size and weight of Kailer has had little trouble adapting to NHL at his size , but took 5 years to do so . We may be just scratching the surface of what Kailer might do down the line .

        • O.C.

          Yes but… I’m NOT comparing skill sets. I’m comparing how quick we are to say “look at this smaller young kid play! Surely he must be NHL ready!” just like we did with Tkachev and we all saw how wrong we were on him. He wasn’t ready… at all.

  • Oda Phi

    Sergei Samsonov remember him? He was 5’8 and won the Calder as an 18 year old. Played for the same team (Boston) as the 1st overall pick that year (1997), he went 8th overall.
    Just saying, anything could happen

  • OldOilFan

    Mgmt “strategy” and considerations different this year:
    1. it’s becoming a “win now” league
    2. McD is entering his third year, typically a peak year for star players
    3. Yam has the speed, skating and hands to work with McD
    4. Yam will attract media attention but the spotlight will remain on McD and Drai
    5. Nobody else [but Yam] so far has clicked on 1RW

  • It is a younger, faster game nowadays, so I don’t doubt that Yamo could stick. *Could*. But when you factor in sacrificing a year of his ELC…and we actually, FINALLY have some depth to this squad…why risk it? Let him get some seasoning, work on getting a little more muscle and gristle on that frame, and then POW…his nine games are right there at the end, helping sew up a Division Title.