The Edmonton Oilers have a great young group that is only getting faster and more skilled. An important piece of the future is Kailer Yamamoto, who has now established himself as a top-six winger on the team. We’ve gotten a taste of what the coaching staff is thinking regarding lines, and it appears as though Yamamoto will start the season on the first line.
Not only will he have that great opportunity that he hasn’t received for long, yet in his career, but he will also play on both special teams. He had a strong second half to the 2021-22 season and is primed to have himself a breakout season at a perfect time.
Opportunity in the Lineup for Yamamoto
Yamamoto is one of the hardest working players you will watch, not only on the Oilers but in the NHL. His size (5-foot-8, 153 pounds) doesn’t hold him back as he constantly hits, fights for pucks against any opponent, and is tenacious in turning over the puck and creating scoring opportunities.
In his young career, Yamamoto has spent short periods of time on the top line of the Oilers. His first look was with Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2019-20, when he became an NHL player full-time. Regularly regarded as the second line when Connor McDavid is healthy and on the first line, the captain was injured, thus the lines altered. Yamamoto, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins were the team’s top line and absolutely dominated, helping Draisaitl win the Hart Trophy that season. Yamamoto finished the season with 11 goals, 26 points, and a plus-17 in 27 games.
He struggled for the following season and a half until everything started clicking for Yamamoto in the second half of last season. He scored nine goals and 21 points in the final 25 games of the season and is looking to build off of that stellar production in 2022-23.
With the Oilers looking to spread out the scoring a bit more this season, Yamamoto will start the season on the top line with McDavid and Evander Kane. The top-line right-wing position was stripped from Jesse Puljujarvi last season after he failed to continue to produce. Yamamoto’s timing was great as he elevated his production and proved to be a cheap option when the spot was up for the taking.
Considering McDavid is the most productive scorer in the NHL season after season and Kane can very well put up over 40 goals this season, Yamamoto has his shot to ride the success of that line. His focus, like he has done his entire career thus far, is to retrieve pucks, get open, and get to the net to finish plays. At just $3.1 million average annual value (AAV) for two seasons, that contract could be very good for the Oilers by the end.
Yamamoto Had Strong Second Half to Last Season
I mentioned above the second-half production of Yamamoto last season. He took time to get out of the slump he was in, and as the NHL returned to normal, he only got better. It may not have looked realistic to expect him to be a point-per-game player after his 27-game run in 2019-20, but with the linemates, he has to start this season, that narrative may change.
Part of Yamamoto’s excellent 25-game run to end the 2021-22 season was spent on the top line with McDavid and Kane. Yamamoto was playing 19-20 minutes a night on average, shooting more, hitting more, and producing offensively more. He strung together seven goals and 12 points in an eight-game span, scoring in seven of those games. Everything to do with Yamamoto’s game seemed better, and he was a more confident and effective player.
Now, picture that sort of production over a full season. Chemistry is important, and if Yamamoto can stick on the top line, the effectiveness of the line and each individual will only improve as the season progresses. He has the opportunity to start the season much better than 2021-22 and hold steady as a productive top-line winger. He is primed to reach new heights in goals and points and shatter his career highs.
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Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News and trade talks.
You can find more of his work here.