For an organization that seems to have become almost obsessively focused on acquiring players with size, it was rather refreshing to hear Peter Chiarelli call the name of Kailer Yamamoto as the Edmonton Oilers first round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Despite being the smallest player ever selected in the first round, the Spokane Chiefs standout is oozing with talent and carries himself in such a manner it is next to impossible to take your eyes off him.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) June 24, 2017
Be it on the ice or facing a throng of media in a scrum, the 18-year old draws plenty of attention and little seems to phase him. The fact he was confident enough to answer the standard “why should we draft you” question from Chiarelli with “because I’ll come back to haunt if you don’t” is rather telling. Like most athletes his size, Yamamoto has been told throughout the years that he would never make it because he was “too small” and that kind of thing tends to affect said individuals in one of two ways.
They either start to put unnecessary pressure on themselves to quiet the doubters or use it as fuel to push them and prove the so-called experts wrong. There is no question the Spokane native falls into the latter category and it has served him well to this point in his career. Despite his diminutive stature, almost every scouting report you read on Yamamoto have a similar theme running through them and there is far more positive than negative.
Lack of Size and Johnny Gaudreau
Words like aggressive, cocky, confident, dynamic, electric, elusive, explosive, slippery are the norm when it comes to those reports, as are phrases such as “puck hound”, “makes linemates better”, “plays and thinks the game at high speeds”. Not surprisingly, the comparisons to Johnny Gaudreau came quickly after the Oilers used the 22nd pick on Yamamoto but there is more to his game than putting up points.
Make no mistake, it will be his high-end skill set that will give him a shot at being an impact player at the NHL level. However, his aggressive nature and willingness to attack puck carriers might just end up being the extra piece of the puzzle that puts him over the top. In fact, Chiarelli went out of his way to point out Yamamoto’s ability and willingness to separate opposing players from pucks during his post-draft interview.
Kailer Yamamoto on next season:
"My goal is to make the Oilers, but if that doesn't happen I want to be the leading goal scorer in the WHL"
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) June 24, 2017
It may seem like a fairly small thing but it is something even the best of players shy away from and certainly not the norm for a guy who stands just under 5’ 8” and tips the scale in and around the 150-pound mark. As an added bonus, his tenacious pursuit of puck carriers and foot speed has led to Yamamoto developing into an extremely effective and dangerous penalty killer. Again, every bit helps and the more a player can do, the better chance he will have of sticking in the show.
With that said, in the end, it will come down to whether or not Yamamoto can come close to replicating what he has been able to do during his time in the WHL. He finished the 2016-17 season as the league’s sixth-leading scorer with 99 points in 65 games and has put up 227 points in 190 games with the Chiefs. Those numbers are hard to ignore and when you take the entire package into account, it is hard not to get excited about what the future might hold.
Oilers Fortunate to Land Yamamoto
TSN’s draft guru Craig Button has always been one who has spoken highly of the kid and offered the following when describing the talented American winger:
“Don’t be fooled by the size. Yamamoto is a highly skilled and competitive player. I call him a smiling assassin…because all he wants to do is find a way to win and jam it down the opponent’s throat. He has exceptional hockey sense and a great skating base. He’s quick, elusive…really good on the edges so it makes it very difficult to be able to check him. When he gets leverage on an opponent, good luck trying to take him away from his path.”
Believe it or not, it sounds as though the Edmonton Oilers may have once again had lady luck on their side when it comes to the entry draft. While winning the Connor McDavid sweepstakes was a franchise-altering moment, adding a talent like Kailer Yamamoto, in the spot they did, could turn out to be a fairly significant moment for the organization.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.