It’s already been a big month for 2017 first-round draft pick Kailer Yamamoto just ten days in. After putting on clinic at the World Junior Summer Showcase last week, it seems like his efforts did not go unnoticed by his new team, the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers this evening announced that the 22nd-overall pick has signed his entry-level contract with the team. As per usual, the deal is for three years and, although not yet official, expected to be for the ELC maximum of $925K per season.
Of course, Yamamoto’s work with Team USA last week was not the first good look that GM Peter Chiarelli and company got of the 18-year-old. Yamamoto also attended the team’s Player Development Camp earlier this summer and drew rave reviews. Prior to that, Yamamoto put his skill on display last season for the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs. The swift right winger is a gifted play-maker, scoring 42 goals and adding 57 assists for Spokane last season in the rugged WHL. Add in seven-point performance in four games at the 2016 U-18 World Juniors, and there is little doubt that Yamamoto can put up points.
Where there is doubt, and where there will continue to be until he proves otherwise at the NHL level, is with his size. At just 5’8′, 153 lbs., Yamamoto would be the smallest player in the league should he actually suit up for the Oilers this season. Due to his lack of stature, Yamamoto’s offensive instincts and impeccable skating ability were overlooked by many teams in the NHL Draft until Edmonton jumped on him at #22. There have been plenty of smaller players to make it in the NHL, especially in recent years with the likes of Johnny Gaudreau and Tyler Johnson, but that won’t stop critics from waiting to see if Yamamoto can actually produce in a much bigger and tougher pro game.
While Yamamoto will surely be featured prominently in the Oilers’ training camp and preseason this year, don’t be surprised if he is sent back to junior for the 2017-18 campaign. Not only would another year of physical growth and bulking up help the undersized scorer, but continued development of a more sound two-way game would also go a long way to making his NHL transition much smoother. With that said, the Boston Bruins, who ironically were expected to have interest in Yamamoto this year, watched 2014 #25 overall pick David Pastrnak make the roster right away in 2014-15 after questions over pro readiness caused him to fall in that draft year. The same situation could certainly occur with Yamamoto this season and with talents like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins making up the Oilers’ forward corps, Yamamoto could find a good fit and plenty of points right away if he makes the team.