The Edmonton Oilers have made a change in the front office, and have also sent a pair of forwards to the minor leagues. Both Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Spooner have been assigned to the AHL today. The Oilers don’t play again until February 2nd, meaning this could simply be a cost-saving move, though CEO Bob Nicholson indicated in his press conference today that the team wants Yamamoto playing big minutes in the minor leagues in order to continue his development and “over-ripen” before returning to the NHL.
Yamamoto, 20, hasn’t even had much time to prove himself at all in the minor leagues yet. After spending nine games—over a full month—with the Oilers last season, he returned to the Spokane Chiefs for the rest of 2017-18 where he continued his dominance of the junior circuit. This season has been split up between the two professional leagues, playing 17 games with the Oilers and just 11 with the Bakersfield Condors. That’s an unusual development path for a 22nd-overall pick who are usually sent back to the junior level immediately before spending at least one full season in the minor leagues. The faith the Oilers have shown in him is unquestioned, but they now must do the best thing for his development instead of just their NHL club.
Spooner’s case is much different. The 26-year old forward was acquired by the Oilers in exchange for Ryan Strome earlier this season, but couldn’t find any sort of fit under Ken Hitchcock’s system. In 25 games with Edmonton Spooner has just three points, a far cry from his days as a 40+ point player in Boston and New York. Spooner’s contract still has another year on it at a $3.1MM cap hit, meaning more than $2MM will remain on the Oilers books even with him in the minors. It seems likely that the team will look to move him for some sort of a return if he’s not going to play for them moving forward.