If Kailer Yamamoto wants to be successful for the Edmonton Oilers this season, and perhaps as importantly, earn himself another contract extension, he’ll need to find a balance between being aggressive and doing so without putting his team at a disadvantage. Head coach Dave Tippett put it best when he said, “I told him what an old coach told me. ‘I want you to be a penalty killer, not a penalty taker,” as per Jason Gregor of TSN 1260.
Yamamoto’s game against the Calgary Flames on Saturday night was a perfect example. In a 5-2 victory over the Flames, the Oilers were on the penalty kill far more than they would have liked. Two of those minor penalties were against Yamamoto and both were unnecessary.
Yamamoto Needs to Find a Balance
The young forward who is known for never giving up on a play is in a tricky position this season. He signed a one-year “show-me” deal at $1.175 million and he needs to produce if he’s going to get a lucrative extension. In fact, with Jesse Puljujarvi up for a contract extension at the same time, the Oilers may not be able to fit both players under the salary cap next season and Yamamoto needs to show he should at least be in the conversation.
The way he’ll do that is by maintaining his aggressive style of play but by knowing when to hold back in a league where hooks, slashes, and cross-checks are likely to be enforced more often than they have been in the past. If he’s in the penalty box all the time, he can’t score — which he needs to do. He also can’t penalty kill — which he needs to show he can effectively help with.
Yamamoto Can Show Patience
This is not a question of whether or not Yamamoto can help himself. Saturday also proved that he’s an extremely patient player. He took a few punches to the face and
a headbutt drew a double-minor for roughing from Rasmus Andersson, all without lifting a hand. He smiled while he did so. In short, this is a player who can show restraint when it gives his team the advantage.
It’s during the play when he is on the hunt for takeaways or digging up loose pucks on the forecheck that he needs to be a bit more careful. That’s where Yamamoto needs to learn the art of discretion and when a play is worth backing off of and when he has the greenlight without danger of getting two minutes.
Yamamoto’s Focus Should Shift Slightly
While he tries to find a happy medium between being dogged on the puck and staying out of the box, Yamamoto should be thinking about shooting and shooting often. One of the things that made him so effective during his 2019-20 call-up and final few games of that season was his mentality to get open and shoot the puck. He essentially stopped doing so in 2020-21.
All of last season (52 games) he had 69 shots. That’s good for a 1.33 shots-per-game average. In 2019-20, he had 44 shots in 27 games. That’s 1.63 shots per game. It might not seem like much, but it’s a big difference over the course of an 82-game schedule. And, when you consider he had a 25% shooting percentage, it’s clear he’s got the skill to finish.
He’s on a line with Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. One player is a play-maker and the other is a gritty forward who forechecks hard, grabs loose pucks, and plays with skill. The spot that remains open on that line is for a shooter and Yamamoto has shown he can get on a roll when he fires the puck at the opposition’s goaltender.
Yamamoto should get open, be ready and shoot. He should also continue to be aggressive and hound the other team but remember he’s not on his own. He’s got a linemate in Hyman that is quite good at it too and it will be to Yamamoto’s short and long-term benefit if he gets that figured out.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”