EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers Rookies have returned to Edmonton following their sweep of the 2017 Young Stars Classic in Penticton, BC. Their next challenge will be facing off against a NAIT/Grant MacEwan All-Star Team under the lights of an NHL arena.
The South Okanagan Events Centre is a nice facility, but it is no Rogers Place.
"It's always exciting to play in front of the hometown crowd," said Oilers rookie Kailer Yamamoto.
While plenty of Oilers faithful dot the crowd in Penticton every year for the prospects tournament, the crowd in Edmonton is sure to be more of a taste of the real thing. It's the first chance for a player like Yamamoto to showcase what he's got for the fan base of the team that drafted him.
Video: DRAFT | Yamamoto Behind the Scenes
Imagine the butterflies of a young player, donning the orange and blue - representing the Oilers in front of their hockey-hungry fans.
"It's going to be nerve-wracking, but it's going to be a lot of fun," said Yamamoto.
The 18-year-old winger tops the list of prospects taking the ice Wednesday at Rogers Place. He's a name fans certainly want to watch in person. He's a flashy and dynamic offensive weapon they hope to soon see lighting the lamp for the hometown Oil.
In just a short amount of time with the prospect, Bakersfield Condors Head Coach Gerry Fleming has formed a positive opinion of the 2017 22nd-overall pick.
"He's tenacious," said the Oilers American Hockey League bench boss. "He's always on the puck. He's not, obviously, an overly big guy, but when you go to the corners with him you know you've been in a battle and nine times out of 10 he's going to come up with the puck. He sees the ice, he's slippery, he's cagey, he has good hands, his speed is exceptional as well. He's a smart, competitive hockey player."
Yamamoto recorded an assist in one of his two games in Penticton, in addition to logging key minutes on the power play and penalty kill.
As a first-round pick, Yamamoto comes with quite a bit of flash. For Spokane in the Western Hockey League last season, the 5-foot-8 right winger potted 42 goals and recorded 99 points. Making the leap to the NHL is a tough task for any player, let alone a smaller-sized rookie, but after Penticton he will enter the training camp competition just like everyone else.
For those that say his chances to stick are slim, Yamamoto has a message.
"Never say never," he said. "There's always a chance. It will be a tough road. I'm fighting an uphill battle, but never say never I'd say."
Yamamoto says his intention the rest of the pre-season is to prove he's a skilled player and hard worker. Meanwhile, the Oilers brass will be looking for his offensive ability to shine through.
"He's got to keep doing what he's doing and what his strengths are; instincts around the net, quick shot, get to pucks, get into the middle of the ice and create scoring chances," said Oilers VP of Player Development Scott Howson. "His game is really finding holes and getting the shot away and making plays."
Fleming's advice for Yamamoto and the other players skating at Rogers Place Wednesday, and those advancing to main camp after, is simple.
"The lights will be a little bit brighter, there may be more seats in the stands, but the game is the same," said Fleming. "Do what got you here and play your game. Don't try to be a player that you're not, and just do the things you do well and do them consistently well."
Regardless of how camp and pre-season eventually turn out for the youngster, Yamamoto is eager to show Oil Country what he's made of. His first chance in person is Wednesday.
"I went to a game with my team in Spokane. We went to an Oilers game at Rexall Place," he said. "The fans get up. It's an insane atmosphere and I'm really looking forward to it."