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Photo Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Who’s Number One?

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.

Is he?

KAILER YAMAMOTO

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.

JESSE PULJUJARVI

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.

JOB APPLICATIONS

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?

  • OriginalPouzar

    Great young forward prospects. Hope Benson joins the rejoins the conversation shortly and am very excited for Safin and Maksimov to continue to progress and develop – those two big boys can sure shoot the pill.

  • Oilers8597

    Is this really a discussion? Yamo is killing it right now and has probably been the best Oiler other then 97, how is this even a debate to who is the player to stay up and play? Yamamoto ain’t going anywhere, I really hope JP plays well and earns a call up though

  • camdog

    I remember from another day a young Oiler with a “wide range of skills” – Magnus Paajarvi. I prefer players that are difference makers, players that excel at one aspect of their game, whatever that is.

  • Reg Dunlop

    If it’s too soon to make any grand statements perhaps you should refrain from calling J.P. a ‘phenom’. I have seen nothing to lead me to believe he is a person of phenomenal ability.

    • Anton CP

      Maybe because that you haven’t really seen much of him? JP is not a pure scorer and I doubt that he ever was. However he is more fitting into the role of a two way player with ability to set up plays. He would be much better if he plays next to Draisaitl more than McDavid. Sooner or later that McLellan needs to shift Draisaitl into his own line instead of always playing both of them together.

  • Ranford.85

    With the RW depth chart looking a little weak, I’ll take them both. They’re completely opposite when it comes to style, size, junior experience and development curve. Almost the same age, I’d give them both top 9 duties next year. Cheap contracts (for now) for our center depth (I want RNH to stay)

    • Big Nuggets

      Agreed. Good to have some variety. Jesse hasnt shown a great deal since suiting up with the Oilers but I think he will find his way in a season or two. The longer he develops in the AHL means he will stay cheap for longer and be more seasoned, so I am all for letting him stew in the minors.

      Keep the wingers cheap so we can hold on to our center depth. I certainly want to keep RNH around if possible. even if that means letting Maroon walk. McD can make another mediocre winger look great next season. Especially in Yamamoto keeps it up.

  • Oilerz4life

    It’s the same old media spin you’re comparing apples to oranges. For all we know PJ may only develop into 3rd line RW using his strength and size with his strong play along the boards. Yam is a small skill forward that plays a completely different game. For all we know they play two different roles and aren’t really competing for the same position at all.

  • Jaxon

    If I remember correctly (and it’s certainly possible I don’t), Puljujarvi didn’t get a lot of games on Lander’s line last season either. Which seemed like terrible handling to me.

  • Jordan88

    You guys realize JP is 5 months older than Yamamoto right? Who doesn’t speak English well, and played a European game. He’s a young kid who turns 20 in May.

    He was a gift from the hockey goes give him time and he will dominate.

  • Jaxon

    Just for kicks, possible future lines and where Yamamoto and Puljujarvi might end up:

    Benson-McDavid-Yamamoto
    Slepyshev-Draisaitl-Puljujarvi
    Safin-Nugent-Hopkins-Strome/Maximov
    Lucic-Caggiula-Kassian

    Two $6M contracts in the bottom 6 is a bit expensive.