For the first time in franchise history, the Edmonton Oilers will play a regular season game in the state of Washington when they take on the expansion Seattle Kraken at Climate Pledge Arena on Friday (Dec. 3). For the first time since they were in junior, Washington natives Derek Ryan and Kailer Yamamoto will play a game that counts in their home state.
The two Oilers forwards both were born and raised in Spokane and played for the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Spokane Chiefs. Their post-junior hockey careers have taken significantly different paths, though until now neither path has included a stop back in Washington.
All-Time Great Chiefs
Both Ryan and Yamamoto spent their entire major junior careers in Spokane, each playing in four different seasons for the Chiefs.
Ryan totalled 67 goals and 100 assists in 216 games, from 2003-04 to 2006-07. He missed only one regular-season game between 2004-05 and 2006-07 and was Spokane’s points leader in 2005-06 (61) and 2006-07 (59). In 2019-20, Ryan was included on the team’s Top 35 Chiefs in 35 Years list.
Yamamoto played 230 games for the Chiefs from 2014-15 to 2017-18. He scored 105 goals and added 186 assists to total 291 points, sixth most in team history. In 2016-17, Yamamoto notched 42 goals and 57 assists for 99 points, the fourth highest Chiefs’ single-season total since 1993-94.
Ryan’s Road to the NHL
At 34, Ryan is more than a decade older than Yamamoto, and has the mileage to attest to it. He was not drafted by an NHL team, and moved to Edmonton to attend the University of Alberta, where he was a standout performer on the Golden Bears men’s hockey team from 2007-08 to 2010-11. He won the 2008 University Cup, and received back-to-back All-Canadian selections in 2010 and 2011, was named Canada West MVP in 2011.
After graduating in 2011, Ryan spent the next four years playing professionally in Europe. The 5-foot-10 centre won MVP in two different leagues in consecutive seasons — in 2014 in what is now known as the ICE Hockey League and 2015 in the Swedish Hockey League.
In 2015-16, Ryan finally got his shot in the NHL with the Carolina Hurricanes, and he’s stuck in the world’s top league ever since. He played for the ‘Canes until 2017-18, and spent the last three seasons with the Calgary Flames, before signing a two-year contract with the Oilers as a free agent during the 2021 offseason.
Yamamoto’s Wild NHL Ride
Yamamoto was drafted 22nd overall by Edmonton in the 2017 NHL Draft and played nine games with the Oilers at the start of 2017-18 before being sent back to Spokane.
The next two seasons, Yamamoto bounced between Edmonton and the Bakersfield Condors in the American Hockey League (AHL) before being recalled by the Oilers in late December 2019, and going on a tear, racking up 11 goals and 15 assists in 27 games.
In 2020-21, his first full season in the NHL, Yamamoto struggled, scoring just eight times and only once in his last 25 games. He started slowly this season, too, but the 23-year-old winger has found his stride of late, with five goals (three of which have been game winners) in Edmonton’s last 14 games.
History for Hockey in Washington
There are just five active NHL players born in Washington state: Ryan and Yamamoto, along with Dylan Gambrell (Ottawa Senators), Tyler Johnson (Chicago Blackhawks), and T.J. Oshie (Washington Capitals). None have suited up against the Kraken yet, meaning Ryan and Yamamoto will become the first Washington natives to play a regular season game in their home state.
Friday’s game is the 12th this season at Climate Pledge Arena, where the Kraken have proven competitive in their inaugural campaign, going 5-6-0 at home, with wins over some of the league’s top teams, including the Hurricanes, Capitals and the Minnesota Wild.
Edmonton arrives in Seattle on a three-game win streak, and an overall record of 16-5-0 for 32 points, second most in the Pacific Division. In the first ever regular season meetings of these teams, Nov. 1 at Rogers Place, Yamamoto potted his first goal of 2021-22 to help the Oilers defeat Seattle 5-2. Another goal from Yamamoto, or one from Ryan, on Friday would help Edmonton’s efforts to stay hot, while being a historic moment for hockey in Washington.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.