After two very brief stints during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 season, it appeared that Kailer Yamamoto had really arrived in 2019-20. After starting that season in the American Hockey League with the Bakersfield Condors, the Edmonton Oilers recalled Yamamoto. After that recall he never looked back, and was fantastic to close out the season with 11 goals and 26 points in 27 contests.
That breakout season had Oilers fans very excited as they believed the team finally had a legitimate top six winger, something they had been lacking since trading Jordan Eberle during the 2017 offseason. That excitement tailed off as Yamamoto regressed in 2020-21, tallying just eight goals and 21 points in 52 games. Despite the down season however, fans believed that the teams 2017 first-round pick (22 overall) would be able to turn things around in 2021-22, which is where we find ourselves now.
Oilers head coach Dave Tippett believes in Yamamoto as a player. Despite his struggles last season, he still got plenty of opportunity in the teams top six. That has continued in 2021-22, as he has played the first three games of the season on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman. His results are still lacking however, making many wonder just how much leash he has left as a top six winger on this team.
The fan base is getting more and more frustrated with the 23-year-old, as is even Tippett, who called him out to the media last week due to some ill advised penalties. Though it is still very early in the season, he is just one of six Oilers forwards who has yet to record a point. Meanwhile, there are some players who haven’t gotten a ton of opportunity yet in the bottom six that are certainly deserving after their great preseason showings.
The first player that comes to mind in that regard is Brendan Perlini, who was red hot in exhibition play but has gotten very few minutes to begin the 2021-22 regular season on the teams fourth line. Though he shoots left handed, he is capable of playing both sides up front, meaning he could slide into Yamamoto’s spot as the right winger on Nugent-Hopkins and Hymans line.
Another possibility is Zack Kassian who has spent plenty of time in the Oilers top six in years past, though Tippett may be hesitant to move him up right now given how well he, Derek Ryan and Warren Foegele have played together on the third line so far. One final option could be Tyler Benson, who has a ton of skill and would be best suited for a top six role. However, the coaching staff in Edmonton doesn’t seem to have a ton of confidence in him as a player, making this option the least likely of the three.
The final thing they could do in an attempt to get Yamamoto going is split up the Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl line. Before the season began, it was expected that McDavid would play on a line with Hyman as well as Jesse Puljujarvi, leaving Draisaitl to center Nugent-Hopkins and Yamamoto. Instead, Tippett chose to put his two big guns together right off the hop. If he does in fact want to try and get Yamamoto back to being the player we saw two seasons ago, throwing one of the best players in the world in Draisaitl on his line would be a great way to do it.
However, with the team being 3-0-0 right now, it doesn’t seem like the best idea to make that big of a change in order to try and get just one player going. Instead, the best option may be to bump Yamamoto down in the lineup and give someone else a crack at his spot in the top six, as he hasn’t shown in quite some time that he is deserving of it.