Kailer Yamamoto is taking the rookie treatment in stride
/ EdmontonOilers.com Head Writer
EDMONTON, AB - Walk into the Oilers dressing room, and you'll see in the centre a group of chairs with practice jerseys and equipment draped over them.
As a rookie, or a newcomer without seniority or NHL experience, you're probably sitting in one of those chairs - not yet ready to move your things to a stall surrounding the room. 2017 first-round pick Kailer Yamamoto continues to battle for his spot on the opening day roster, so he sets his sweaty pads down by the chairs after practice - even on his 19th birthday.
"It's been good," said a smiling Yamamoto. "I was a rookie in Spokane (in the WHL), so it's nothing new. Just take it in and try to be yourself."
In addition to his lack of a stall, Yamamoto has other responsibilities as a rookie. For example, you'll find him staying late after practice - picking up pucks and sticks. Or you may find him waiting his turn to board the team's plane.
"They all go through it," Head Coach Todd McLellan said of the informal rite of passage. "Even today, we switched ice surfaces and Yamo was grabbing the puck bag and we weren't waiting for him, so 'Yamo, leave them. Let's go!'
"The guys are having fun with him and he's got nothing but a big smile on his face all the time."
"It takes me back to being 19 again," said Milan Lucic. "I remember how I felt in his position and just embracing the moment and being out there competing with guys you watch on TV and look up to. I remember looking at Zdeno Chara as a 19-year-old and going, 'holy smokes. I'm thankful this guy is on my team, but holy smokes. I'm actually playing with a guy of his calibre.'"
Adam Larsson is another NHL veteran who fondly looks back on his first pre-season in the League. As a young Swede, he was lucky to have a few fellow countrymen on the New Jersey Devils who helped him navigate the waters. But he went through the same things Yamamoto is today.
"I did, and we had quite the veterans at that time too with Marty Brodeur and Patrik Elias and those guys," he said. "I got the old-school rookie treatment."
Yamamoto, who turned 19 Friday, has ingratiated himself amongst the veterans with his fearless style of play and hard-working attitude. But it also helps that he's carried himself well in terms of taking the rookie treatment in stride.
"He gets along real well with the guys," said Larsson. "You can see the young guys here who have been here for a couple of years really want to guide him in the right direction and that's a good thing. You can see he respects the guys who have been here for a while. He does all the rookie things with picking up the pucks, he's the last guy on the plane and all that type of stuff. It just shows he's a humble guy."
"I think he's becoming part of our family here and big brothers are looking out for him, not only on the ice but off the ice and away from the rink," said McLellan. "When that happens, it's usually a sign of a pretty close team and when somebody new comes in and the groups cares for them."
Lucic, who was on a line with Yamamoto Friday, also sees a young kid who is meshing well with an already tight group.
"I think he's enjoying it. I think he's embraced it," said Lucic. "He's obviously making the most of his opportunity on the ice and I think off the ice he hasn't been shy with getting to know the guys. It's been nice to talk to him and get to know him a little bit and pretty fun to celebrate his birthday with him today."
It should be a good birthday for the youngster, who said it once seemed "farfetched" he'd be spending it with the Oilers.