2016-17 Team: Spokane Chiefs (#17)
Date of Birth: September 29, 1998
Place of Birth: Spokane, Washington
Ht: 5’8″ Wt: 159 lbs
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2017 first-year eligible
- THW (Pike’s Picks): 26th (final)
- Future Considerations: 15th (final)
- ISS: 26th (May)
- Bob McKenzie: 23rd (Mid-season)
- Craig Button: 16th (final)
- The Hockey News: 24th (final)
Kailer Yamamoto is a small, small young man. It’s a statement of fact that has to be emphasized outright, because any sliding down the rankings that happens on NHL Draft weekend could be primarily driven by concerns about a tiny man’s ability to survive in today’s National Hockey League. Despite all of the concerns about his diminutive stature, the American-born forward has impressed a lot of people during his time in the Western Hockey League.
Born and raised in Spokane, Yamamoto followed his big brother Keanu to Los Angeles for a couple years of high-end prep hockey before following him back to the WHL’s Chiefs. While Keanu was a very good WHLer with a respectable 0.65 points per game over four full seasons. His little brother has 1.19 points per game over three seasons, almost double his brother’s production. His 99 points this season were 6th in the league and his 42 goals placed him 8th. Some scouts have compared Yamamoto to Johnny Gaudreau and the comparisons aren’t terrible. Yamamoto is a very good skater, able to weave in and out of traffic with the puck and avoid almost all contact with opposing players. Moreover, his mere presence on the ice with the puck is able to elevate the offensive chances of all of his teammates because his ability with the puck earns him a lot of attention from the other team (and leaves his teammates open). Spokane wasn’t a great team this season, but four players – the Yamamoto brothers, Hudson Elynuik and draft eligible forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan – carried their offense and kept them in a lot of games.
Yamamoto’s not a perfect player. He’s not huge and does not play a physical style of game. His defensive zone play is under-developed. His shot isn’t exactly a cannon. But he’s been an excellent offensive player in the WHL. That alone will garner him some strong NHL interest, particularly given the success smaller players have had in the pros over the last few seasons. His size will always be a concern, but his offensive abilities stand out in what’s been termed a slightly below-average 2017 NHL Draft class. He’s survived playing in the WHL against some very big-bodied defensemen. Can he do the same thing in the NHL? There will be several clubs willing to take that gamble.
NHL Draft Projection
Yamamoto is consistently found in the mid-to-late first round on draft rankings and projections.
“Undersized at just 5’9″, Yamamoto is a tremendous skater. His top end speed is excellent. Yamamoto creates odd-man rushes with his speed, and can beat defenders to the outside and cut to the net. He also is very quick to loose pucks with great acceleration and a really quick first step. His ability to change speeds is a weapon, that can be used to fool defenders on the rush and in the cycle game. Excellent edge work and great agility also allow him to be extremely elusive in one-on-one situations.” – Ben Kerr, Last Word on Sports.
- Strong hockey sense
- Strong puck distributor
- Strong skater who manages to avoid contact by being elusive
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
- Could stand to improve his shot accuracy
- Still fairly dependent on generating offense on the power play
- He’s very small by major junior (and pro) standards
Yamamoto most likely projects as a top-six forward at the NHL level and a power play specialist, if he makes it to that level. If he makes it, he’ll need to be something akin to Johnny Gaudreau or Paul Byron to make it work.
Risk – 2/5, Reward – 4/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offense 8.5/10, Defense 7/10
Kailer Yamamoto has been a regular presence for USA Hockey at international events. He’s represented his country at the World Under-17 Challenge, the Under-18 Worlds and the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. He won bronze at the U17s and gold at the U18s.
He was named a Second-Team Western Conference All-Star for his performance in the 2016-17 season.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.