Yamamoto: He’s Small, Tries Hard, and Has an Opportunity

Kailer Yamamoto scored his first goal of the season Thursday night against the Boston Bruins. It was also his first-ever NHL goal. While he’d proven himself capable in two preseason campaigns, there was no official tally on his NHL resume and it was good to see a young kid, who is small and tries hard, finally be rewarded.

Yamamoto, he’s small and tries hard. It’s a phrase that sounds oversimplified when you say it out loud. That said, “tries hard” is the description of a player the Edmonton Oilers could use a lot more of. Specifically, Yamamoto’s effort level seems to have gotten him noticed as he’ll be getting an opportunity Saturday night on the top line when the Edmonton Oilers face the Nashville Predators.

His linemates? Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Kailer Yamamoto Is Small

In a surprise, Yamamoto (the little guy drafted late in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft) made the 2017-18 Oilers’ opening night roster. He had an impressive 2017-18 training camp, but after playing his ninth game (with three assists) he went back to his hometown Spokane Chiefs where he had a big year in the WHL (64 points in 40 games). Scott Howson, the Oilers’ vice-president of player development, called Yamamoto the “best player in the league from January until the end of the regular season.”

Kailer Yamamoto Oilers
Edmonton Oilers right wing Kailer Yamamoto (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

This year, the Oilers included Yamamoto on their 25-player roster at the start of the 2018-19 NHL season. Earlier in September, Oilers’ writer Mark Spector noted that Yamamoto was earmarked for the AHL, where the Oilers’ wanted him to show some dominance before giving him an NHL roster spot. But, Spector also noted that the Oilers were light on the right side, and he was right. Yamamoto made the team.

Since the opening of the NHL regular season, Yamamoto hadn’t really been noticeable. There was some debate about whether or not he belonged… that is until his beauty of a goal against the Bruins.

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Kailer Yamamoto Tries Hard

In my books, “tries hard” makes him the kind of player everyday fans can relate with. In fact, how can you not root for Yamamoto? If all is right in the hockey world, Yamamoto not only sticks with the Oilers, but he flourishes alongside McDavid while Ty Rattie sits out a couple of weeks with a midsection injury.

Kailer Yamamoto Oilers
Kailer Yamamoto, Edmonton Oilers, Oct. 21, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Yamamoto has all the tools to become a fan favorite. In a new-look NHL, where size isn’t as important as it once was seen to be, Saturday’s opportunity for Yamamoto gives him the chance at showing he has the potential of being Edmonton’s Johnny Gaudreau (no surprise for Calgary), or Jonathan Marchessault (last year’s big surprise for the Vegas Golden Knights), or Brad Marchand (a star at only 5’9”). All these guys are undersized but good players, with slashing, straight-ahead on-ice styles that belie their physical statures. No doubt, this is what Yamamoto likely strives to become.

Related: McDavid’s Leadership More Impressive Than New NHL Record

Kailer Yamamoto Has a Golden Opportunity

Like all teams, the Oilers need talent; but, in a cap-driven NHL, they also need cheap talent. With Rattie on that top line and making very little salary related to today’s NHL stars, the Oilers had a dangerous trio. Slotting Yamamoto in where Rattie once was, potentially allows that trend to continue.

Kailer Yamamoto - Edmonton Oilers
Kailer Yamamoto (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

As the title says, Yamamoto is small and tries hard. He says and does all the right things – so far. Yamamoto notes that it’s about “playing the right way every day. Doing the little things right. Putting in the work, and showing you’re dedicated and you want to make the team.” All true: but if he wants to stay with McDavid, the Oilers need him to score, plain and simple.

Yamamoto seems to have the tools to be a dynamic playmaker. He is creative with the puck and uses his size to squeeze through holes. Perhaps best of all, Future Considerations noted before the 2017 draft that he has a “strong work ethic that keeps him going.” That makes Yamamoto strong on defense and a good fore-checker, where he can use his speed to rush the play and clog the passing lanes. Once he has the puck, he can fly. He is a winger who can play like a center. He’s smart.

Ryan Biech, of the Nation Network, noted that Yamamoto isn’t afraid to battle. He takes punishment to make plays, and he is fearless. If he does get beat, he skates into the fray again – this time to win.

A player being described in the way many have described him can only ask for one thing — an opportunity. In reality, the jury is still out, but here’s hoping that Kailer Yamamoto makes the most of his Saturday night promotion. He is small, and he works hard. If he can score, maybe, he earns a permanent spot on this Oilers’ team.