Is Yamamoto the Oilers’ Missing Link?

Plan the Stanley Cup parade: the Edmonton Oilers have a second line! Get ready for the 2020 playoffs: the Oilers have a second line! Okay, all sarcasm aside, ever since Kailer Yamamoto joined Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the second line, the team has granted fans the chance to dream about making the playoffs.

Could a 5-foot-8, 153 pound, 21-year-old forward really encompass enough superhero-like power to solidify the Oilers as a 2019-20 playoff team? It’s common for fans to prematurely dub someone a hero — Mike Comrie, anyone? — but I believe that Yamamoto is the Oilers’ missing link. General manager Ken Holland and head coach Dave Tippett seemingly do too.

Holland Believes in Yamamoto

Remember during preseason when Holland discussed his plan for the young players in the organization? If not, here’s a little refresher:

“If a young player isn’t in the lineup, he’s going to the American League. If he is in the lineup, then we have a further conversation about where he fits. I’d rather make the call during the season to call the player up than to make the call during the season to send the player down. I think it’s easier for their mind and mentality to be working their way up than down. Young players have to take a job from a veteran.”

And this exact scenario has played out for Yamamoto. The young player wouldn’t have been called up if the organization didn’t believe in his ability to contribute.

The GM recently spoke to The Fan 590 and discussed Yamamoto’s impact: “He came back up here and Dave Tippett has been using him 15, 16 minutes a night.”

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

It’s easy to recognize that Yamamoto is not only ready to play in the NHL, but he has the ability to shine where he belongs—as a top-six forward. Holland shared that he’s not interested in calling up a future top-six player to play on the fourth line. The general manager wants the Oilers’ young prospects to play where they belong.

Yamamoto has proved—so far—that he belongs. The small, but feisty forward has notched two goals and one assist in four games.

This season, with the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield Condors, the right winger has 16 points in 23 games. And he uses his speed, skill, and fearlessness to draw penalties. His point production may not be outstanding, but his relentless style of play likely attracted the GM’s attention.

The Oilers Can Now Split up McDavid and Draisaitl

Sportsnet recently published an article titled “Separating McDavid, Draisaitl necessary for Oilers’ long-term success.” A few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have agreed with this article. It was annoying watching McDavid and Draisaitl play on separate lines. It wasn’t working. Fans hated the idea of breaking up the Dynamic Duo.

But now the heavens have opened. And no, McJesus didn’t fall from the sky this time, but a small little angel named Yamamoto came floating down, blessing Oilerville with his second-line holiness (otherwise known as the player who fulfilled the noticeable hole on the wing).

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid
Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Zack Kassian helps to highlight why it’s beneficial to split up McDavid and Draisaitl:

“When they’re together, they’re very dynamic. But when you play them apart it’s tough for opposing teams to get the matchup they want.”

Kassian’s right. When McDavid and Draisaitl head their own lines, the opposition is forced to send out their best defensive pair against either McJesus or the German Gretzky. And it’s worked.

Over the last four games, the Oilers have scored a ton of goals. How? Well, ever since Yamamoto’s 2019-20 season debut, James Neal, Kassian, Nugent-Hopkins, Draisaitl, McDavid, and Yamamoto have produced 12 goals and 13 assists. And no, McDavid hasn’t tallied 11 goals and 12 assists of these totals. The superstar has “only” notched two goals and four assists.

In the previous four games BY (Before Yamamoto), the same players (excluding Yamamoto) only produced five goals and six assists. If this stat doesn’t cement the young player’s role as the Oilers’ missing link, I don’t know what does.

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

It may be too early to get excited about the 21-year-old right winger, but at the moment, Yamamoto fits perfectly into the Oilers’ roster. He’s the top-six forward they’ve been waiting for.

Plus, when Edmonton needs a quick goal, Tippett can always put the Dynamic Duo back on the same line. It’s not like playing on separate lines means they have a restraining order against playing with one another.