Being called “undersized” stopped bothering Kraken winger Kailer Yamamoto when he was a kid growing up in Spokane. It’s a common reference, especially by NHL analysts who often point to his 5-foot-8, 155-pound frame.
“I’m used to it now, I’ve gotten it ever since I was eight years old,” Yamamoto said, “I’ve always been the smallest kid on my team, they used to say it often, but I just have to prove them wrong.”
While he’s still just a kid by certain NHL standards, he’s also a bit of a savvy veteran, entering his fourth full NHL season and his 7th overall at the age of 24.
The pro’ career started when Yamamoto skated nine games with the Edmonton Oilers in the spring of 2018 after his final junior season with his hometown Chiefs. The Oilers selected Yamamoto 22nd-overall in the NHL Draft in 2017 after he finished the previous Western Hockey League season with 99 points in 65 games.
He’s been an NHL regular since 2020.
“He’s a competitive guy, he’s a confident player, he’s played a lot in this league, so we threw a lot at him the other night in terms of specialty teams, he was on the PK, he was on the power play, played a lot of minutes 5-on-5, but he handles those really well,” Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol said of Yamamoto’s performance in Calgary on Monday night.
Yamamoto not only handled it, he put himself in the right spot at the right time for two goals in the contest. It was a nice little ice breaker and confidence builder.
“It felt really good to get the first one out of the way with the Kraken,” he told us Wednesday morning. “Thought it was a good game, a little bit sloppy, but it’s the first game. I thought the guys worked hard and it was a good win for us.”
The Kraken prevailed over the Flames 5-3 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
“His intelligence is really apparent. He understands the game, he grasps the systems really quickly, and like I said, he’s a competitive guy that has some ability,” Hakstol added. “So we’ve been happy with his first few days of training camp and his first exhibition game.”
Home State Kraken
To suggest Yamamoto is a bottom-six forward for the Kraken is reasonable and logical, until you glance at his background with the Oilers. He was up and down the pecking order during his time there, at one point getting regular shifts on a line with superstar center Connor McDavid. Eventually Yamamoto’s production cooled off after posting 20 goals and 21 assists during the 2021-’22 season.
“It was interesting, last year was a little bit different,” he said. “I was up and down a little bit, I played with the top guys quite a bit, but you’ve gotta produce, if you’re not producing it’s tough to keep you on a line if you’re not producing, so I get it, but it was definitely a little bit different.”
He returns home, sort of, to the Emerald City where Washington folks and friends can easily commute to cheer him on.
“It’s awesome, I also played juniors in Spokane so I’m kind of used to that (fan support), but Seattle’s a little bit bigger, so it’s gonna be a lot of fun, I’m super excited about it, family is super excited about it, can’t wait for the first one,” Yamamoto said.
Not only did Yamamoto take full responsibility for his waning production, he’s also not averse to telling a humorous story about his stature, or lack thereof. Like the time he ran into the tallest man in NHL history, former Boston Bruins captain, 6-foot-9, 255-pound Zdeno Chara.
“I’m a bit faster than him, but if he got me, he was just throwing me basically, he could pick me up with one hand,” Yamamoto recalled. “I was in the corner with him and he literally did that actually, he’s so strong it was unbelievable. It just felt like a giant human picked me up and was like, ‘alright, well, you can take me anywhere you want. Can’t do anything about this one.”
Less humorous, and more dangerous was a chop-trip Canucks defenseman Danny Dekeyser committed on Yamamoto last preseason about eight feet from the corner boards. Dekeyser was on a Professional Try-Out offer with the Vancouver. He didn’t make the club. He did however send Yamamoto into the boards head-first at high speed.
Stature in this case meant nothing.
“It wasn’t a hit, but it was the worst play I ever experienced. Dangerous,” Yamamato points out. “But can’t think about that now. That’s just hockey.”