Aside from predicting that Edmonton would win the division for the first time since 1987, Oilers play-by-play man Jack Michaels gave us the heads up last week on Oiler-turned-Seattle-Kraken Kailer Yamamoto, a right winger who could play a key role on the team.
Our conversation occurred just ahead of the Kraken signing Devin Shore, another former Oiler who will be around on more of a try-out basis hoping to crack the roster.
We snuck the interviews and information in over the holiday weekend, but it’s definitely worth a peak. (video at bottom). We also picked up a Western Conference wild card race preview relating to the Central Division from Winnipeg Jets play-by-play man Paul Edmonds. Last season the Kraken and the Jets were the two wild card playoff qualifiers in the west.
Chief Turned Kraken
Fans in Washington state are familiar with the undersized forward Yamamoto who played four seasons in the Western Hockey League for his hometown Spokane Chiefs. He was selected 22nd-overall in the 1st-round of the 2017 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers. It’s the only pro’ organization he has been with until now.
“Your gonna get a guy who does turn pucks over as a defensive forward,” Michaels said. “He’s got that (Pavel) Datsyuk (a 3-time Selke Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defensive forward) ability to get inside and quickly transition from defense to offense. He creates turnovers in the offensive zone, he’s a relentless forechecker, because of his stature, he uses it as a strength to basically get inside on a guy and often relieve him of the puck.”
That stature would be on the short side. Carrying on the tradition of previous undersized Spokane natives turned NHL’ers Derek Ryan and Tyler Johnson, Yamamoto tries to make the most of his 5-foot-8, 155-pound frame. Speed and skill are the characteristics he relies on. The relentless forecheck fits the Kraken’s personality.
After six seasons of jockeying between juniors, the American Hockey League, and the Oilers, there are still elements of Yamamoto’s game to figure out. He was given various opportunities to play with the team’s best players, arguably the NHL’s best, in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Yamamoto had a 20 goal, 41-point season in 2021-’22, but for the most part has shuffled around the line-up trying to find the most consistent fit.
“The problem for Kailer Yamamoto is his scoring and especially his finish has been inconsistent,” Michaels points out. “He went on an absolute tear on a line with Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins a couple of years ago and that really thrust the Oilers from a playoff also-ran into an annual contender, but he really hasn’t discovered the scoring touch since.”
He’ll get every opportunity to prove himself once again with the Kraken, initially slotting in with the bottom-six forwards while attempting to impress at training camp.
Based on a number of factors, Michaels believes his Oilers will win the Pacific Division this regular season, edging out the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights.
As for the Kraken match-up, it wasn’t pretty for the Seattle folks. Head-to-head the Kraken went 1-and-3 against McDavid and company, giving up a large number of goals in the process.
“Edmonton was always able to get to Seattle early,” Michaels said. “Whether it was (Philipp) Grubauer or (Martin) Jones (in net). Again, I don’t see this changing much because neither Seattle nor Edmonton has had a great deal of turnover, and Seattle, with Philipp Grubauer, they’re casting their lot with him for better or for worse.”
Without delving into the obvious key that is goaltending, the Kraken will indeed, in all likelihood, be chasing the Oilers in the Pacific Division this season. From how far behind becomes the all-important question.
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