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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

What Should the Oilers do With Kailer Yamamoto?

Kailer Yamamoto hasn’t suited up for the Oilers since their overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday. That’s three healthy scratches in the Oilers’ first ten games, and it seems increasingly likely with each trip to the press box that this tour of duty might be nearing its end.

The timing makes sense. Yamamoto has played seven games and is nearing the crucial ten games played mark where a team has to decide whether they want to burn a year off his entry-level contract for the privilege of keeping him around.

It wouldn’t be difficult to present the case for Yamamoto, full-time Oiler. In seven games, Yamamoto has three points, all assists, and proven himself a capable two-way player at even strength. That’s a 35 point pace with no obvious defensive shortfalls.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Yamamoto’s played two-thirds of his shifts at even strength with McDavid, but we shouldn’t hold that against him. The Oilers need cheap help at the top of their lineup wherever they can find it, and while the goals haven’t come yet, neither has harm to the Oilers fortunes with Yamamoto on the ice. Even away from McDavid, Yamamoto is running a cool 50.88% five-on-five on-ice shot attempt ratio.

And while some might be quick to point to that doughnut in the goals column as proof positive of Yamamoto’s need for further seasoning before permanent NHL residency, it’s easy to pick apart that argument piece by piece.

For starters, Yamamoto isn’t alone as a snakebitten Oilers forward. That’s been one of the underlying stories that’s driven the Oilers through their tumultuous first month of the season. The Oilers control the highest ratio of five-on-five expected goals in the league and sit 19th in actual goal share; Edmonton has the sixth-lowest PDO.

At some point, the Oilers on-ice shooting percentage, currently second-worst in the league running at 5.12% at even strength, has to regress upwards towards the mean, and at that point, you probably want an inexpensive, offensively gifted player like Yamamoto to be a part of the fun.

The 3.47 expected goals per hour at even strength that the Oilers are running at with Yamamoto on the ice is the sixth-highest mark on the team. Better still, the 2.48 individual expected goals at evens to Yamamoto’s credit are the second-highest among all Oilers forwards at even strength, lagging behind only McDavid himself. Looked at on an hourly basis, Yamamoto’s 1.62 individual expected goals an hour lags behind on William Nylander.

Beyond just looking the part of an everyday NHL’er, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that Yamamoto has done everything in his power to be a significant contributor offensively. It doesn’t show up on paper, but if you dig a little deeper, there’s every indication that Yamamoto, much like the Oilers at large, is on the verge of catching fire and leaving a trail of smoke and frustrated goaltenders in his wake.

Yamamoto’s still 19-years-old, though, and in his first year with the Oilers organization after they took him 22nd overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. That he’s made it to this point and forced so difficult a decision upon the Oilers already is worth celebrating in and of itself.

What shouldn’t get lost in this discussion is how significant a role the Oilers play in getting to this point. Up and down the organization, everyone involved said all the right things of Yamamoto’s chances to make this team. Then they did the unthinkable and kept their word.

Whether Yamamoto sticks with the Oilers or not — there’s certainly a case worth making about asset management and long-term development that works against him — let’s not lose sight of the fact that in a league that so fetishizes size, especially at the draft table, the Oilers were willing to take the 5’8″ Yamamoto and disregard height entirely when deciding how best to utilize him thereafter.

When the Oilers drafted Yamamoto last June, he carried with him a 48.9% xSucc. rating through the pGPS (Prospect Graduation Probabilities System) draft metric lens. CanucksArmy’s Jeremy Davis developed that tool for prospect analysis using historical comparables based on stature and statistical profiles to create a composite score for a player’s likelihood of NHL success.

Usually, smaller players like Yamamoto don’t look as good as their similarly productive but taller peers. A lot of that is that we’ve been able to prove that height does, in fact, matter. We’ve also found that it doesn’t matter as much as some might suggest, and in a case like players with Yamamoto’s statistical profile, it’s fair to say his likelihood of success is understated.

The reason is simple: coaches aren’t as willing to play players like Yamamoto. It’s one of the greatest market inefficiencies remaining in the NHL. Oilers head coach Todd McLellan is breaking that mold, though. At the very least, he has for the first ten games of the season.

A contending team like the Oilers might not need Yamamoto in their lineup to reach their ceiling this season, but there’s a definite argument for why he’s value-added regardless. Whatever the Oilers decision, don’t lose sight of the fact that they gave us the opportunity to see that in Yamamoto’s first year in the organization. They’re ahead of the pack for just doing that much.

  • OriginalPouzar

    He should play on Wed vs. Pit and then join Spokane for their games next weekend.

    It’ll put the Oilers back at 48 contracts and they’ll make a call up (not sign Chris Kelly) – Malone or Puljijarvi.

    Its fairly obvious that its time for him to join his team in Spokane – they don’t play again until next weekend but he should be there for those games.

    • T Ambrosini

      For me it’s not as clear. Yamamoto’s NHL stat line (7 games, 0G, 3A, 3P, -2, 22 shots) is almost identical to Pulijujarvi’s numbers in the AHL (7 games, 0G, 3A, 3P, -1, 21 shots). Malone’s stat line isn’t much different, though he has 2 goals, one assist on only 10 SOG. I agree that it’s time to send Yamamoto back to Spokane but I don’t see where Malone or Pulijujarvi is going to help us today. Depth is a great thing… Too bad we don’t have it on the right wing

      • OriginalPouzar

        I have come to the thought patters (possibly wrong) that we might have the rare case of hampering development by keeping a player in the AHL. Given the vast lack of offensive acumen to surround Jesse with, I think his development might be better served in the NHL.

        There is simply noone for him to player with – his centers this year have been Josh Currie, Grayson Downing and Brad Malone.

        Lets not forget Drai was 6 games, 2 points and a -5 when he was recalled from the AHL.

        • TruthHurts98

          Think I might agree with you. Oilers problems are mostly lack of desire to compete and they look like a poorly coached team right now. Last night’s game wasn’t much different than the Weakins era for half of the game. JP would be better served playing with good centres if his compete level is there. It’s obvious he doesn’t drive a line but he should be responsible defensively if called up.

        • T Ambrosini

          You may be right, but I would take great pause before I compare LD and JP. At the time LD was brought to play in Edmonton, he was 20 years old, could speak some English and had played a season in North America (Kelowna). Jesse is 19, still learning the language and the North American game. Rushing him to Edmonton, I honestly believe, would put undue pressure on the young man and probably screw up his development. My fear is he will come to Edmonton, be shackled to the 3rd or 4th line, and/or live in the press box. I really think he needs and deserves this full season in the AHL.

          Sure, he is saddled with crummy line mates. I have seen him play this season, both live and on internet feeds. To me, he still looks like the guy who was sent to the AHL to grow and learn the North American game. If he starts to tear it up in the AHL then by all means bring him up for a look.

  • Oilerfromthestart

    Learing aside of Connor, Drai and Nuge along with learning the current coaches systems seems like e right choice to me instead of sending him back to junior. It isnt like he has been out of place and the speed is needed. Chia has done to tbis team what he has done to Boston before being let go…..traded the talent, made us slower and put us up against the cap. Keep the kid up and as much as it dissappki ts me to say, he is one of the best RW options we have right now. If he looked out of place like Drai, Nurse or JP did their first years i would be all for sending him back, but he is showing he as close to NHL ready as many when they get their first shot. Sending him to junior only increases his confidence which the kids already appears to have an abundance of.

    • Serious Gord

      Except any mistakes he makes will be scrutinized. And that there is no room for error. No freedom to experiment.

      He needs to go back to junior and do more ‘research’.

  • camdog

    If McDavid and LD can’t power the Oilers to win on the one scoring line, then Oilers are going to move LD onto his own line (2-3 games).They’ll need another 2 wingers for that to work. RNH might work on one line, and then who do they use

  • Spydyr

    How about the Oilers look at a player development needs first and send the kid down. He can play in the World Juniors and hopefully dominate. When Spokane’s season ends he can come back or report to the Condors.

  • oil.99.97.11

    This team currently needs all the help they can get. Kailer helps and doesn’t hurt. Keep him around, let him play…maybe some of our higher priced underperformers will step up if only to try and keep pace with an undersized rookie who’s almost always noticeable on the ice and actually seems to give a sh*t.

  • LAKID

    Who cares! the Vegas Knights are better than the Oilers! I predicted out of farce the Knights would be better than the lames …….. but this? Send him down enough. Make a big trade, November winds are comming and we could be out of the playoffs again!

  • #97TRAIN

    Send him down . He is not going to be the difference maker for this team . We can’t rely on an 18 year old. Let him go rip it up and he will be a better player for it.