Spokane Chiefs forward Kailer Yamamoto is considered one of the top prospects for the 2017 NHL Draft. Before the season begins, here are some things you need to know.
1. He’s a hometown boy.
Yamamoto was born and raised in Spokane, though he left briefly to play minor hockey with the Los Angeles Junior Kings. These days, however, he’s back in Washington as an important part of his hometown WHL team. Last season, his second year in the WHL, he lead the Chiefs in points with 71 (19 goals, 52 assists) in the regular season.
He’s a late birthday, and will be turning 18 this September, making him one of the older players in this year’s draft. His brother Keanu, 20, also plays for the Chiefs. Their grandfather is from Japan, and their grandmother is from Hawaii.
2. He’s a late-round steal headed for first-round pick status.
Drafted 105th in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft behind some pretty highly regarded players, Yamamoto has steadily climbed the ranks of his peers. After a stellar rookie WHL season in 2014-15, wherein he was second among WHL rookies in points, he racked up 14 more points in 11 fewer games his sophomore season.
Yamamoto is currently regarded as a player most expect to go top 10 in next year’s NHL draft. His size could cause him to drop — we’ve seen it plenty of times before — and he needs to work on his decision-making, especially when it comes to taking retaliatory penalties. However, with his offensive skillset, it would be a travesty if he fell out of the first round entirely.
3. He’s got a good shot at playing in this year’s World Junior Championships.
This summer, Yamamoto was one of 42 players invited to the National Junior Evaluation Camp (NJEC) in Plymouth, Michigan. His most recent season in Spokane was likely a large factor in this invitation. However, his performance for Team USA at the the 2016 IIHF U18 World Championship in Grand Forks, North Dakota in April cannot be ignored — Yamamoto tallied 13 points in 7 games, including 7 goals, on the way to helping the USA capture a bronze medal.
Underage players don’t often make WJC rosters, but Yamamoto could be one who does. His offensive skill was on full display at the NJEC, but he could’ve played a smarter game, particularly in terms of taking penalties, and will need to show that he’s capable of doing so if he wants to travel to Toronto and Montreal with Team USA this winter.
4. He’s drawn comparisons to Johnny Gaudreau.
Obviously the main factor people are using to compare Yamamoto and Gaudreau is size — Yamamoto is 5’9” and 160 pounds, the prototypical smaller player that sometimes scares scouts away. Both of them fit the mold of the small, ultra-skilled forward USA Hockey has come to churn out over the past several years.
Yamamoto plays right wing, likes to use his speed to his advantage, and just like any other undersized player, knows he has to put in the extra work—and he does. His work ethic has been noted by scouts, his coach, and even NHL center Tyler Johnson, whose mother taught a young Yamamoto how to skate.
As far as NHL players to model himself after go, Gaudreau and Johnson are pretty good options.
5. You don’t want to leave him with open ice.
Leave Yamamoto alone with the puck long enough and he’ll make you regret it.
He’s fast, smart, and relentless. He reads the play well, knowing where he needs to be on the ice to make the most of his chances, and has excellent hands. While he’s a terrific playmaker — something helped along by his high hockey IQ — he can also snipe the puck when the opportunity arises.