Photo Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

That Kailer Kid

It goes without saying that Kailer Yamamoto has been terrific in the three games he’s played with the Edmonton Oilers this pre-season. For me, it’s how he’s impressed coach Todd McLellan and the three new sets of eyes on his coaching staff that’ll have Yamamoto celebrating his 20th birthday Sunday on a team charter bound for Europe.

With two more goals in a 5-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets Sunday, Yamamoto has 4-2-6 in his second pre-season with the Oilers. The diminutive winger from the Spokane Chiefs has managed that without relying on Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. Yamamoto potted his pair Sunday playing on the left wing, not on the right side, where there’s a crowd looking for roster spots.

Just as important in how Yamamoto has forced his way into a seat on the charter and onto the opening night roster has been his play beyond the numbers. He’s playing special teams. He’s gone to the tough spots, retrieved pucks, set screens in traffic and shown a more well-rounded game than he did last pre-season, when he also put up numbers. On the edge of 20, Yamamoto is flat-out a better player. That hasn’t been lost on McLellan, Trent Yawney, Manny Viveiros and Glen Gulutzan.

“His rookie camp was just average but maybe he was just anxious to get out with the NHL group,” McLellan said Sunday. “Since we’ve started camp, he’s been tremendous. He’s been a really good penalty-killer and it’s interesting that when you talk to the new coaches, (he) continues to grow on them . . . the language they’re using is there’s no liability in his game. He’s as good defensively as he is offensively.”

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Oct 24, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matthew Murray (30) makes a save against Edmonton Oilers right wing Kailer Yamamoto (56) during the second period at PPG PAINTS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

No liability in his game – we didn’t hear that a year ago. Yamamoto got a nine-game look-see to start last season after impressing in pre-season, but was returned to Spokane after managing three assists. He came to camp this time slotted in as competing for a job on right wing, where Ty Rattie and Jesse Puljujarvi have also put in very strong bids for roster spots. Then, there’s Tobias Rieder and Zack Kassian.

While McLellan hasn’t given me a peek at the depth chart in his office, my sense is that Yamamoto came into this camp in deep behind Rattie, Puljujarvi and Rieder for a top-nine spot and not well-suited to a fourth-line role. That’s partly because of his age and that, generally speaking, showing patience with a young player like this rather than forcing him along makes sense. Give the kid a look and then off to Bakersfield he goes. Well, not so fast.

“I think I’m in my groove right now,” Yamamoto told reporters Sunday. “You have to go to the dirty areas to get those goals. Ever since I’ve been a younger player that’s where I’ve known you had to go. Good things happen there. I think it’s more playing the right way, offensively and defensively. You have to do everything right.”

“I trusted him a lot last year and what we’re seeing is he’s a tremendous penalty-killer and smart on the power play,” said McLellan. “Those are two situations he can get some extra ice-time. Five-on-five when you look at scoring chances he may be the smallest guy on our team with the most touches around the blue-paint. He’s either very smart or he’s got a lot of tenacity in the paint who should be there.”

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Oct 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers right wing Kailer Yamamoto (56) skates during the warmup period against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

When the coach likes you as a power play option and on the penalty kill, when you show him tenacity and smarts in the tough areas and you show you can play either wing if need be, you’re increasing your chances to land a job well beyond whatever skill-set box they might have had you pencilled in for. Yamamoto has done that. Yes, it’s a small sample size – that’s what training camp and pre-season is. It’s the same for everybody.

I’m not sure Yamamoto even has to land a spot on the right side to stick beyond the trip to Europe and the road games to start the season. Does he displace Rieder there? Can he move to the left side and be a top-nine option? I think so on both counts. Of course, what we’ve seen so far doesn’t guarantee success once the regular season begins. Same goes for Rattie and Puljujarvi. History tells us that much.

That said, as of right now, today, I’ve got Yamamoto making the roster. The question, and the votes that matter, is if McLellan and his coaching staff feel the same going into games with Vancouver, Arizona and Calgary before the team jumps that jet. From where I sit, Yamamoto has to play his way off the team now, not onto it.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

      • Armchair genius

        So what. This article is about Kailer and his solid play throughout the preseason. Somehow it’s turned into he too small, he’ll get hit……my god people do we have to turn every conversation into what wrong will happen? Can we not just admire the player and hope for the best? We all know what his physical stats are, let’s just talk about how he can hopefully help the team out. If the worst happens, then cross that bridge when we come to it and then you can all say I told you so. Cup half full not half empty!!

  • Spydyr

    Yamamoto has played very well in the preseason but the preseason is not the regular season.I think he will be on the team until someone snots him and he gets injured. His head is the same height as most NHL player shoulders.

    I understand this will not be a popular opinion here.

    • Oilers2017

      You’re right, probably not a popular opinion, but guys like that have been there their whole career so far….weren’t we all waiting for St.Louis to get pasted and finish his career? How about a guy like Fluery? They said the same about 99…seems to me that Yamamoto is a smart player with heart and smart players with heart can carve out a career

      • Spydyr

        Player like St. Louis and Fleury come around every couple decades. How about we compare Yamamoto to an Oiler, Hemsky. Hemsky played the same type of game and was injured most every year of his career.

        • JudgeDredd

          Johnny Gaudreau has put up big numbers and the most games he’s missed in a full season is 10

          hockey DB has Gaudreau @ 3lbs heavier than Yamo…… i think he’ll be okay

        • Hemsky didn’t play the same kind of game as Yamamoto. Hemsky was much bigger and he tended to take on opponents, notably Robyn Regehr, physically rather than dart in and out of traffic as Yamamoto does. He’s not like Fleury either. Lots of smaller players in the league now — Johnny Gaudreau comes to mind. There’s no need to go back 20 years for comparisons.

          • ed from edmonton

            I guess it depends on what you consider “to take on opponents”. He would often you into a corner when Regehr on the ice and get the snout knocked out of him. I don’t know if I would consider that taking on an opponent, at least not physically. I don’t recall Hemsky ever throwing a body check, or checking much of anything.

        • Spydyr

          Nurse almost took Yamamoto out after his rush last game.Yamamoto showed balls driving the net but when Nurse hit him unintentionally after the play Yamamoto went down hard. There is no way I would ever hope for any player to get injured but I have always liked big hits and as much as Bettman has tried hitting is still part of the game.

          • The Future Never Comes

            The game has changed, if you have the skill and speed to put the puck in the net or assist others in scoring, then there’s a place for you. Does not matter if your 5’8, blue, or have one ear. If you can help your team win and are not a liability, you can succeed.

          • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

            What about the first preseason game vs Calgary? Takes a huge hit at the Oilers blue line, but then he pops right back up and scores on the breakaway

          • Glencontrolurstik

            Kailer is also NOT afraid to go in after the puck. Much like Fleury, he goes in “full-bore” on a 265lb Byfugelin & comes out with the puck. How cool was that? He is a keeper, with hockey smarts & sneaky speed… On another website today, someone who was at the game said, “He’s not that good. I was at the game last night & hardly noticed him.”… Perfect,… 2 goals & hardly noticed… That’s a great player to have in my opinion…
            As great as the Strome line has been, I’d like to see Yamamoto & Pullijarvi replace Lucic & Reider,… switch.

        • Svart kaffe

          “Player like St. Louis and Fleury come around every couple decades. How about we compare Yamamoto to an Oiler […]”

          Why? Because you need to cherry-pick your comparisons? I’m not saying you are wrong here, but that’s a poor way to argue your point.

      • Redbird62

        A lot of these smaller players don’t get to the NHL until 21 or olders, so they may have filled out a little more. Fleury was 20, but he was a stocky 180. Guys like St. Louis, Gaudreau, Tyler Johnson and others were generally 21 or older. Alex Debrincat (5″7″; 165) however, was only 3 months older than Yamamoto is now, and he made the Blackhawks last year and played 82 games so you never know.

        • FlamesFanOtherCity

          You can’t really compare Yamamoto to Fleury or St. Louis or even Debrincat. They were stocky players. MSL had tree trunks for legs and was a fitness guru. Debrincat is built like a linebacker. All the power to Yamamoto, but he has to play enough on the fringe to stay healthy and enough in the play to be effective. Putting up points in the pre-season is fine, but very few NHL vets lay the body like regular season.

    • There’s just as much “heavy, physical vets” in the AHL as there is up here and the CHL isn’t some fancy biology lab that’ll make him grow an extra 3 feet. Even if he does add 15+ibs it’ll probably change his game significantly. The league is going more towards speed over size now. The kid is going to be fine

    • 99CupsofCoffey

      I watched Yammers play in Spokane for all his years there. He has always been able to bounce up after being slammed in the corner. Yes, it was just WHL, but i see the same thing now. He makes people miss. Even the Jet’s color guy was commenting on how hard he is to even hit. Sure, he could take a bad hit and get knocked out of the game, but he’s learned how to “be hit” through his years, and i don’t see it as any more of a “thing” than bigger players.

      • Redbird62

        Except most of the bigger players who make the NHL can out skate most of the bigger players he faced in Junior. Or they are just that much smarter and more experienced to time their hits. There might have been one or two players on each opponent that he would need to pay special attention to in order to not get pasted, but most NHL teams have at least 5 or 6 and the whole game is played at a much higher tempo. That’s not saying he can’t avoid contact, just that it will be a lot harder in the NHL. The worst hit he absorbed last night appeared to be the collision with Nurse behind the net after he scored. He bounced off Nurse like a cornerback taking on Bo Jackson and that’s with Nurse trying to avoid him at the last second.

        • 99CupsofCoffey

          That’s why i said “Yes, it was just WHL.” Yes, i understand that the NHL is a different breed of players. What i was saying is that he’s trained himself to take hits differently than just getting bashed up against a wall, and as he ages, he will only get better at it.

  • Why anyone had Rieder on 2RW I’ll never understand, especially when Puljujarvi and Yamamoto are clearly better.

    Yam clearly showed he can play LW as well. Let’s go:
    Nuge – McDavid – Rattie
    Yamamoto – Draisaitl – Puljujarvi
    Lucic – Strome – Aberg
    Khaira – Brodziak – Kassian

      • Yeah, but not like this team hasn’t over-paid for extra/support players (COUGH! KOSKINEN! COUGH!) in the past…

        The difference is that Reider can actually play in those special team situations, tough last-minute protecting the lead situations, invaluable skills that maybe don’t get a chance to shine very much in the preseason.

  • Patrick Olsen

    See, I saw the same thing last year. Just as good defensively as offensively, creates lots of chances and drives play. His shot seems to have improved, but I don’t see a huge difference in his game. He was always great.

  • Bringer_Of_Snow

    I have loved Yamomotos play thus far. That goal at the end of the game, albeit meaningless, showed that he is will to crash the net.

    On a side note, Islanders sent down Ho-Sang and Dal Colle.
    What are your thoughts on the Oilers looking into either of the 2, preferably Ho-Sang. He is fast and has a wicked shot. Obviously has had attitude issues in the past, but throw him in room with Milan and 97 and it will straighten him out.
    He is going to be sewered by Lou on the Island now, would cost dirt cheap and has a legit chance to be a skilled top 6 winger.

    Yes I know we have Yam and JP, but all he does is add competition to the mix. I do believe he played on his off wing too.

    I have been so interested in Ho-Sang and I think he would be a great fit with the Oilers.

      • toprightcorner

        The way is looks, based on preseason play so far, that JP would be on Draisaitl RW, Yamamoto on Stromes RW. They have to fit Reider in there somewhere, but to me Caggiula has been the least impressive.

      • jesse says yep

        So you don’t think there is any competition for that spot and that it’s a done deal? I agree that the combo seems to work so why mess with it but is it a matter of Rattie being that much better then Yamo in your eyes or just a more balanced lineup?

      • Ratt McNuge

        I originally saw Yammer getting sent down, but I think he will start the season playing with Drai on the second line. Drai needs a goal scorer to play with.

  • Redbird62

    I see that the Oilers just announced that Upshall has been released from his PTO and that Malone, Lowe and Gravel have been put on waivers for re-assignment. With Gravel being sent down or possibly claimed, that leaves a spot for Bouchard on the 23 man roster without having to make any moves.

    With Upshall out, it would seem Yamamoto is still competing with Aberg and Chiasson for a spot on the 23 man roster. I really don’t believe that McLeod has a realistic shot and Rattie would have to completely fall apart these next few games to not stick. I don’t see any other forward at risk right now. Chiasson’s on a PTO and can be cut with no consequences to the roster (sorry Steve), but Aberg would have to be waived as well. A few more stellar games from Yamamoto, and the Oilers could very will risk losing Aberg on waivers to send him down. The one thing that might be hard to predict is how risky to the Oilers is waiving guys like Gravel, Aberg or Jerabek at the start of the season.

    • Big Nuggets

      I agree but Gaudreau was in his 20’s when he made the NHL. This might be the year Yamo makes the team. I always temper expectations with young players because so many junior stars can’t make it in the NHL. I think Yam is the real deal but if he spends this season in Bakersfield its okay.

  • Big Nuggets

    If Yamamoto can make the team and Puljujarvi takes a step our forward group actually looks pretty decent. Defense is a big question mark but it should be a fun season.

  • This:
    “From where I sit, Yamamoto has to play his way off the team now, not onto it.”

    True, to a point. Bottom line, if there are players playing better than Kailer, send him down But if there aren’t…if he’s been as good or better than anyone else…then there’s no reason in the world to not keep him up. I don’t see why it’s even a question. However, should he tank in these next three games, I could see him starting in Bakersfield, totally dominating there, and being called up around mid-season to help the squad drive for the playoffs.

  • Quoteright

    If he’s better then the others take him until he proves otherwise.
    Lucic should be on the 3rd line like he was in LA and on the PP.
    Pool party Drai and JJ on 2nd
    Yamo lucic strome
    Reider kassian brodziak