I have a lot of time for Kailer Yamamoto. He earned the right to play for the Oilers in October with his performance in September. After training camp, he was no worse than the second best right winger for the Oilers. Today, that may still be the case but the best thing for Edmonton is to send him back to Spokane.
I think it’s important to talk about what Yamamoto has done well so far. It’s true that goal scoring hasn’t been easy for Yamo, but he has been generating shots on net very well. He is second on the team in 5v5 shots per 60 minutes (minimum 50 minutes played) with 11.3 Shots/60. Only Yohann Auvitu (???) is higher at this point.
That’s good news for the Oiler player/prospect. One might assume that the kid isn’t scoring because he is too small and getting boxed out of chances. That’s not the case, at least not to the degree that it might feel like for a kid who is goalless through the first portion of his NHL career. Yamamoto is getting the opportunities to shoot and that’s reflected in the data.
It’s even showing up in the individual scoring chances per hour as registered by NaturalStatTrick and individual expected goals by Corsica. What I’m getting at is that the numbers suggest that even with a goose-egg in the goal column, I’m reasonably comfortable saying that Yamamoto is creating enough to justify playing in the top six now and in the future.
In a lot of ways, Kailer Yamamoto deserves to stay up with the Oilers. However, as Clint Eastwood once said to Gene Hackman, deserve’s got nothing to do with it.
The reality is that money and the team’s position in the standings play a bigger factor into my thought process than they should in a perfect world. With Edmonton deep in a hole and working without a safety net anymore, the coaching staff has already shown a preference to play more experienced skaters.
Yamamoto has played only a handful of games in the last few weeks and that’s a combination of the coach wanting to see his lineup without him and not entirely trusting the rookie winger. His last two outings have only seen him play 14 and 11 minutes respectively. He’s only played “top 6” minutes in four games this season, and he’s picked up points in three of those games. He’s had nothing in the others.
So if the coach is only going to be playing him between 10 and 14 minutes a game, then what’s the point? He’s a skill winger who is best used beside skilled centers and on special teams. Yamamoto can be playing 20 plus minutes a night in a pro-style schedule in the WHL. He can be the go-to guy on his club and potentially traded to a Memorial Cup contender where he’ll get a chance to play in high stakes hockey games.
Given the fact that his coach hasn’t shown a lot of trust in him and that his points haven’t been piling up, the final reason doesn’t seem overly important now, but I believe it’s the best reason to send him back to the WHL. Kailer Yamamoto is going to be very cheap for the duration of his ELC.
Yamamoto will make a maximum of 230k in performance bonuses per season during his Entry Level Contract. That means he could score 40 goals for the Oilers, make the All-Star team, and win the Conn Smythe and he would still cost a maximum of $1,155,000 for three years.
The Oilers have $8.6 million in cap space (before bonuses) projected this season and the savings they are getting out of Yamamoto are unneeded. He is not an everyday player. He isn’t on pace to hit any of his bonuses. The cost savings compared to performance just isn’t there.
However, after an extra year of development and after the McDavid contract kicks in next season? The Oilers will be desperate for that kind of savings. They won’t just be appreciative of that saved money. They will need it in order to be competitive. It’s not just McDavid’s contract, it’s Lucic and Russell, Nurse, Benning, and Maroon who will be putting all kinds of pressure on the cap.
The Oil will need top 6 contributions on the cheap and if Yamamoto is not ready in the eyes of the coaching staff to provide that today then save it for later.
Edmonton has made multiple mistakes when it comes to burning years on deals with their 1st rounders who could use more time developing. I will spare you going back to Sam Gagner’s rookie season, but we can look at Leon Draisaitl as a very recent case.
The Oilers blew past the nine-game mark with Leon but “wisely” didn’t cross the 41 game mark that would accrue him a season earned towards unrestricted free agency. It was clear that the team had vacated a spot for Draisiatl before he was ready to perform and they eventually relented, but the damage was done. Instead of this being the final year of Draisaitl’s ELC and paying him less than 4 million, the club was forced to pay him a year in advance.
It didn’t save a penny. In fact, it forced the club to make a call on Draisaitl’s value after just 2 full seasons and without establishing his spot on the roster. He’s being paid a premium like a center but is still on the wing with McDavid.
The Oilers also crossed the Rubicon on Jesse Puljujarvi’s contract but took the extra steps to start the countdown on his Unrestricted Free Agency. At this rate, his second contract should be a steal, but we have no idea what the state of things will be when he turns 25. For Sam Gagner, who was on the verge of becoming one of the youngest free agents in NHL history, it gave his camp such a great bargaining position that Edmonton almost immediately regretted signing the extension that took him beyond 25.
The reality is that Yamamoto is a good player. He is a better top 6 winger today than most of the Oilers who would replace him. That doesn’t mean the best move here is to keep him in the NHL. The bigger picture suggests he will that much more valuable to Edmonton as early as next year and for two more seasons after that.
We’ll see him again in Oiler silks and when we do we’ll thank our stars that he’s going to be dirt cheap for the three year duration of his ELC.