Each fall since 2010, Edmonton Oilers fans gather around the bar, or fridge, or bar fridge, and talk about the future. Sooner than later the topic of the great next hope arrives and most times it’s pretty easy to make the call.
In 2010 it was Taylor Hall, followed by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. In 2013 Darnell Nurse held the mantle and Leon Draisaitl came along one year later. In 2015 the Oilers won the lottery, effectively ending lottery picks—or so we thought.
Jesse Puljujarvi was the 2016 pick, Edmonton falling ass over tea kettle into blind good luck. JP didn’t graduate as a prospect in his first year, so it’s reasonable to assume he is the current ‘top prospect’ in the system.
Kailer Yamamoto is five games into his NHL career, he has three assists and all kinds of opportunities offensively. The young man shoots a lot—eight shots last night in Chicago—and sooner or later those pucks are going to go in. Then again, we said that about Jesse Puljujarvi last fall and Leon Draisaitl fall 2014, a prospect doesn’t always arrive year one.
Yamamoto has some crazy early season stats, like 18 shots on goal 5×5 in 58:58 minutes. His shots/60 is 18.32 although his 5×5/60 scoring (1.02) number tells us he’s not cashing. With Connor McDavid (KY was Leon Draisaitl’s replacement on the top line) Yamamoto sports a 69 percent possession number (these are all via Natural Stat Trick) and a matching 40-18 shot share. It’s good, and Yamamoto may well be a finisher down the road. No matter what happens, even if he gets sent down tomorrow, this is going to be a successful resume bullet point for Kailer Yamamoto.
I think you can make the case for the young winger having emerged as the team’s top prospect.
A year ago, Jesse Puljujarvi played 84 minutes with Connor Mcdavid (Yamamoto is currently at 42 minutes) and had a 54 percent possession number with 97. He had a 5×5 shots per 60 number of 7.27 and for the season was 1.45/60 scoring (slightly ahead of Yamamoto) including all minutes.
Puljujarvi plays tonight in Ontario and for the Bakersfield Condors, he has two assists in three games. The Condors don’t have an impact center for their young phenom winger, so posting offense is going to be more difficult than it was a year ago (Anton Lander was exceptional in the AHL 2016-17). We may be looking at a lesser offensive season because of it.
It’s too soon to make any grand statements, but I do wonder if these two young wingers will be applying for the same NHL job. Yamamoto is going to be shooting for a job on a skill line, with power-play minutes and an impact center.
That’s a job Puljujarvi may apply for, but we’re still figuring out his offense. I think he’s going to be a fine NHL player but may emerge as a two-way winger who makes his living outscoring opponents at 5×5 and plays a reliable game against the opposition’s best. All guesswork of course, but we’re projecting into the future, not making statements of fact.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
There’s an excellent chance both of these young men spend most of this season outside the NHL. We’ll be watching closely to see how much offense each delivers. My own feeling is that, given the choice, I’d rather have the player with the wider range of skills (represented here by Puljujarvi). However, if Yamamoto emerges as the better offensive player, there is an argument to be made for his being the better overall prospect. Thoughts?