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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.