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FEATURE: Yamamoto playing well around the net

Rookie Kailer Yamamoto played well in front of the net in the Oilers loss to Ottawa and was one of the team's better players

by Chris Wescott / Head Writer

EDMONTON, AB - Kailer Yamamoto probably could have had his first NHL goal Saturday night, but settled for his first point - a secondary assist on Adam Larsson's third-period tally.

The rookie first-round pick was buzzing around the Ottawa Senators net. Playing with Connor McDavid and Patrick Maroon, Yamamoto was one of the team's best players in an otherwise rough night.

Look at the top line's shift with less than three minutes to go in the first period. On that shift, Yamamoto tipped a puck on net, then sent a wrister and a backhander at goaltender Mike Condon in rapid succession. He was all around the crease, generating offence in a game in which offence for the Oil was sparse.

"He was one of our standouts last night," said Maroon.

"You look for bright spots on a tough night and he would have been one of them," Head Coach Todd McLellan assessed after the game. "I thought he played very fast, he played quick. He had his nose over the puck in and around the blue paint a number of times. He had an impact on the game offensively and didn't hurt us defensively."

Yamamoto finished his night with a team-high six shots, an assist and 18:38 of ice time.

"I felt a lot more comfortable out there," said Yamamoto. "Playing with McDavid again, it opened my eyes. He's an unbelievable player. I've got to keep up with him. I thought I was around the net a lot more and felt more comfortable."

In tight spaces is where Yamamoto excelled. Though quite small in stature, Yamamoto keeps his engine going. He's slippery and has high-end stick skills when room to move around is hard to come by.

"Just watching him today in practice, he's so strong on his stick, he's really competitive, he's going to get better every game," said Maroon. "Last night proved it. He came out of the gates and played a really good hockey game.

"I think last night he was playing on the inside, he was getting to the front of the net, he was winning his puck battles, he was making plays in the neutral zone and the d-zone. Those are the things he was doing in the pre-season. It's good signs for our team and hopefully our line and myself can play a little more inside."

The Oilers ran a drill Sunday at practice in which the nets were pushed close together within the centre ice logo. Those kinds of tight and quick situations are right in the rookie's wheelhouse.

But drills will only do so much to help the rookie improve. Right now, it's the game experience that's helping him develop.

"The more games I play, the more comfortable I get," said Yamamoto. "Hopefully, it goes uphill from here and hopefully I play better next game."

Yamamoto's play or praise he's earned may surprise some, but not his teammates.

"I'm not surprised at all," said Maroon. 

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