Photo Credit: David Banks - USA TODAY Sports

It Wasn’t The Plan

The reality is that I didn’t think it would be this way either. Even more so after the Young Stars tournament, I thought “It’s just not his year.” However, after the quality of linemates improved (drastically) and the structure of a professional environment kicked in, he really started to shine. Kailer Yamamoto looks like a real player.

Eighteen-year-olds weren’t supposed to walk onto this team anymore. For starters, this team is supposed to be good and that typically means depth. Depth means kids have to beat established NHL players for jobs that are already filled. It’s an uphill battle.

Related to that is the second point: Edmonton wasn’t drafting high impact teenagers anymore. They made the second round of the playoffs last season and drafted 22nd overall. These aren’t supposed to be the kids that make it right out of the gate. It happens, but not THAT often. Do you know who Philly took 22nd overall in 2016? Congrats if you knew German Rubstov without the help of HockeyDB.

Yamamoto was supposed to be the easy choice to send back to the WHL. He weighs approximately as much as a sack of potatoes with full equipment on and he’s too short to ride the tea cups without an adult. The Oilers drafted for skill (which was probably their best move this summer) and they were going to reap the rewards next year at the earliest. Case closed. Here’s a ticket to Spokane. Score lots of goals, we’re cheering for you. The end.

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Except that’s not what’s happening in camp right now.

Through the bulk of training camp, Kailer Yamamoto has been an offensive standout. He’s fast and productive. His anticipation levels are stellar and that is making him a fantastic option for his teammates. He knows where both they and the puck are going to be. That quality has also allowed him to play on the PK during the preseason as well. I was expecting plenty of PP and 5v5 time, but not so much the penalty kill.

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I fully expect at least 50% of Nation readers are about ready to pull their hair out at the idea of this kid playing AND STAYING with the Oilers this year. I get it. It wasn’t supposed to happen. Bring prospects along slowly. Don’t rush them. I hear your concerns.

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

Now, in a perfect world, I think we could all agree that Edmonton wouldn’t have room for Yamamoto just yet and the established right wingers on the team were better than him. The thing is that the Oilers removed their top two starboard wingers and didn’t replace them with similar quality. They took Draisaitl from McDavid’s side and are converting him to a full-time centre. They are spending a boatload of money on the premise that he’s a centre so we’ll see that for a while. They traded the next guy in Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome who is neither close in terms of goal scoring or point producing.

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Peter Chiarelli really opened the right side of the forward lines. The most established among them is Zack Kassian, who is also the guy pencilled into the fourth line role. He had more points and as many goals as Drake Caggiula, who was pencilled into the second line spot. Ryan Strome, I guess, rightfully was pencilled into the top spot because he had the most goals scored last year with 13 and points at 30. Yamamoto isn’t slaying dragons out there when he’s passing these guys on the depth chart.

What if, though, Yamamoto is not being rushed? What if he is ready for the next test?

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Yamo isn’t just doing better than the players who were brought into camp ahead of him. He is genuinely performing well. He’s done so well that in practice he was on the McDavid line. He’s walked ahead of all the men who were here for the playoff run or chosen in the top five of their drafts. He’s done that with his actual performances. He wasn’t gifted the spot. He was supposed to be an easy choice for assignment. He’s had to overcome his size and exceed expectations his whole career and it seems apparent today that he has earned the right to be considered Edmonton’s top right winger.

Today, I can’t honestly say that anyone else vying for that spot in camp has done a better job than he has. I can’t say that the Oilers have a player right now that WILL do a better job than him this coming season. I’m more than willing to say that, for me, he’s already earned the chance to play in my opening night roster. I would give him nine regular season games and be ready to make another honest assessment after that.

If that doesn’t fit into the plans then we can have another conversation about “the plan” later, because it probably should have included better competition for the skill positions. Today, Yamamoto is the best player on Edmonton’s right side and everyone else needs to bring their play up to his level if they want to stay in the race.

  • Spoils

    This is a stretch, but just a random thought…

    what if there was something to the coincidence that Pulj fell behind Laine as the top Fin.
    now he is slipping behind KY as the top rookie.

    probably nothing to that, but looking at his WJC stats against his peers. you have to salivate for him to get his game back.

    this is the WJC 2016 final scoring list:

    Pos Player Country GP G A Pts +/− PIM
    1 Jesse Puljujärvi Finland 7 5 12 17 +8 0
    2 Sebastian Aho Finland 7 5 9 14 +9 4
    3 Patrik Laine Finland 7 7 6 13 +8 6
    4 Auston Matthews United States 7 7 4 11 +6 2
    5 Matthew Tkachuk United States 7 4 7 11 +7 6
    6 Alexander Nylander Sweden 7 4 5 9 +5 0
    7 Zach Werenski United States 7 2 7 9 +10 4

    • Happy McDavid Decade

      Shows you how leading one Junior “best on best” tournament or leading the preseason goal scoring category does not define a player’s short term or long term outlook. Puljujärvi and / or Yamamoto could turn into the next 50 goal scorer, or could easily follow the trials and tribulations of one Nail Yakupov. Both are still 19 and young and have tons of potential. Do what is right for the player’s growth.

    • Joy S. Lee

      Oh please. Puljujarvi is still barely growing hairs on his chinny-chin-chin. It’s far too early to label him on a down-arrow. In fact, you are downright mistaken to even suggest it. There’s a player in jersey #98, it’s just a matter of time… of bringing that player out. Show some patience.

  • GriffCity

    Loving this kid so far. If he is able to handle 82 games of an NHL schedule is another question. But whats not to like to far – smart, fast, skilled. He has been miles ahead of Pulujarvi so far and he’s only a year younger. I don’t like that im already souring on Pulujarvi but the kid asked to be called “Yessah” instead of Jesse….What?! Way to early to be telling us how to say your name kiddo. You’ve got to establish yourself before you make demands like that. Im not jokinen around either! Jesse is Jesse here across the pond big guy until you deserve proper pronunciation. Zach Parise was “pa-ree-say” until like last season and 650 big league pts later and then asked to be called ” Pa-ree-see”. Jesse should be focusing on his play, which has been largely a dumpster fire, and not on how we pronounce his first name. Im cheering hard for Yamo

      • Alwaysright

        Puljujarvi and Yamamoto are only 5 months apart in age, not even a full year, if he keeps outperforming JP then send JP down to the AHL as there’s nothing wrong with that, he clearly still has language barrier issues and I kind of hoped he progressed alot more from last year. I don’t think he was “demanding” his name either, he was just letting people know and probably comes off as blunt being he is speaking in a second language. Pretty sure that isn’t an issue at all….

  • vetinari

    If he wins a job on merit then give him a look for 9 games but I still have trouble believing that a kid who just turned 19 and weighs about 150 lbs can withstand a full NHL schedule. I suspect he would start fine but be banged up by new years or so. I would rather he build strength and conditioning for a year but if McLennan can find a way to feed him sheltered minutes for a good chunk of the year and there are no better internal options, do what you have to do.

    • Joy S. Lee

      Hmm. Here’s another thought… every player that gets into the NHL for his first season of pro is somewhat overcome with the significant physicality of the sport and the lengthy duration of the schedule. Then playoffs!

      It’s bound to be just about as much a shock to the system of the new 225 lbs player as it is to the new Yamo Ammo-Master Mini that plays like Yoda on skates. My point being, yes, I agree that he’ll feel it, and probably more than his peers, because of that lack of a large muscle/fat/bone/tissue absorption system. But just like that kid at 225 adapts, so will the lightweight. The process is very similar for both. In fact, with today’s nutritional and training expertise, they can DESIGN something for Edmonton’s shiny new version of Johnny Hockey, to combat such things. In other words, if he’s got the skill and know-how to make it, then he’ll adapt just like everyone else. I think the first season is a real eye-opener for anyone who makes the jump to the pros, let alone the babies of the crop. They all have to go through it for themselves. And it will wear every one of them down. That’s precisely why they learn how to personally adapt to the grind.

      So, to me, that doesn’t matter. What matters is whether he can make the team better right now. There is depth on this team, and that depth is already on contracts. I would suggest he will end up back in junior because of that, but he’s certainly earned getting his shot. Looks like those first half-dozen games are in the bank for the Little Y, playing for the BIG Y. Maybe the Emcee will give him an introduction, and the kid will just run with it. Either way, it will be a lot of fun to see how it all shakes out, because he will be here soon enough.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    The preseason is his first test. I think he’s passed. Test #2 should be 9 games in the regular season. Let’s see how he does against complete NHL teams who are actually trying.