Off the Top of My Head
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
9 months ago
After a dozen games and five weeks out of the lineup, Kailer Yamamoto hopes the injuries that have kept him off the ice with the Edmonton Oilers on three separate occasions for a total of 24 games this season are finally behind him and he can get on with the rest of his hockey life.
The 24-year-old forward’s tentative first step away from the struggle he’s been engaged in, off LTIR and down that road back came Friday at Rogers Place against the New York Rangers. On a night the Oilers blew 3-0 and 4-1 leads in a 5-4 shootout loss, Yamamoto played 15:20, mostly with Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane on a line that didn’t get anything done. He finished with a shot, a hit and got stopped in the shootout by Igor Shesterkin.
“I think these last couple of days, I’ve been trending in the right direction here for a little bit,” Yamamoto said Thursday after coach Jay Woodcroft announced he was back in the lineup.
“I think those last couple of extra days definitely helped and feeling really good right now. It’s definitely time to put it in the rear view (mirror). Like I said, it’s been lingering for a while. I think it’s time to take the step and move past this and look forward to the rest of the season.”
A LOOK AHEAD
Given Yamamoto’s robust playing style, which had a lot of fans calling him The Honey Badger after his arrival for the 2017-18 season, and his size as one of the smallest players in the NHL at five-foot-eight and 153 pounds, staying healthy – he’s been listed as out with an upper-body injury, but the translation, in this case, means concussion issues – is a challenge.
Yamamoto doesn’t play on the perimeter. When he’s at his best, as he was last season with 20-21-41 in 81 games, he battles for loose pucks, goes hard to the net and doesn’t back away from taking or making a hit to make a play. That can take a toll when many of the opponents Yamamoto willingly takes on are half a foot taller and 35 or 40 pounds heavier.
There’s a place for the little man in today’s NHL, but when you’re the size of flyweights Yamamoto, Johnny Gaudreau, Cole Caufield, or Alex DeBrincat, to name four examples of diminutive players, willingness to stay in the battle when overmatched physically is admirable but laden with risk.
There’s room on Edmonton’s right side for Yamamoto, who carries a $3.1 million AAV this season and in 2023-24 on a two-year deal, but not if he can’t stay healthy. That said, I don’t expect we’ll see Yamamoto start tippy-toeing around as he gets back up to speed — the Oilers are in Colorado today.
“I’ve talked to a couple of coaches,” Yamamoto said. “They say maybe don’t take on a six-foot-five, six-foot-four guy head-to-head. But no, I don’t think my game will change — keep playing tenacious, go into battles, try to win every battle, so I don’t think this is really going to affect me at all.”
Dec 27, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers left wing Dylan Holloway (55) against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
We know Dylan Holloway and Vincent Desharnais were loaned to the Bakersfield Condors to make room for Yamamoto because GM Ken Holland can’t convince anyone to take Jesse Puljujarvi off his hands, but I don’t like seeing Desharnais demoted, even if it’s temporary.
Desharnais, 26, is a feel-good story because he was a longshot toiling in the minors until he got into a dozen games with the Oilers this season, but that’s not a good enough reason to keep the six-foot-six blueliner from Laval around when the team needs to free up cap space.
I don’t like the move because Desharnais brings a dimension of toughness and edge this line-up can use on a blueline that’s not as physical as I’d like, even if it’s only for 12 minutes a night. Those are traits that tend to be even more valuable in the stretch drive and playoffs. Desharnais will be back. The question is when.
“Both understood the news,” Woodcroft said. “Good spirits. You don’t have to worry about either one of those two young guys. They just love playing hockey and they’re going to be important pieces of our team going forward.”
Take a bow, Alberta. The Oilers Mega multi-day 50-50 draw raised a total jackpot of $5.8 million in support of the Ben Stelter Fund in the fight against childhood cancer when it concluded Friday. In addition to the 50-50, the Oilers wore warm-up jerseys for the game with “Stelter” name bars that will be auctioned off along with game-worn equipment with proceeds going to the Stelter fund. It’s wonderful to see Albertans respond to this cause in memory of a special and brave little boy.
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