It was something that was noticeable right away.
Instantly, you could see the difference in Kailer Yamamoto from the time he was called up this season to when he was drafted or to when he started last season with Edmonton.
He looked a little bigger and was playing a little stronger, but what stuck out was facial hair. He had a little scruff around his chin. A little goatee for a go-to guy. A scorer in junior and a developing one at the American Hockey League level. Projected to do the same in the NHL but along the way, as well as growing facial hair, he's been growing his game.
"Super fun league the AHL. Bakersfield is a family," is the way Yamamoto described it. "They took me in when I got sent down last year. They were the best times of my life. Getting to know the guys was awesome. It helps build you up to play defence, to score and go against bigger guys."
Competing against bigger opponents has always been a challenge but a winnable one for Yamamoto, who is listed at 5-foot-8 and 163 pounds. There are some similar-sized players in the league right now. Tampa Bay's Tyler Johnson, a long-time friend of Yamamoto's and fellow native of Spokane, is listed at 5-foot-8 and 182 pounds.
There are a couple of local products as well in Minnesota's Jared Spurgeon (5-foot-9, 167 pounds) and Ottawa's Tyler Ennis (5-foot-9, 161 pounds). Success and size can go hand in hand.
"I've seen players whose stature isn't big but they have a big heart," explained Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett. "Today's game allows those players to be successful with the lack of clutching and grabbing. You used to be able to just grab those guys and stop them."
Now "those guys" have a little freedom to use their God-given talents that don't revolve around height and weight. The winger had enough of them to get taken in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft as the Oilers saw something in the star of the WHL's Chiefs that they felt would translate to the NHL.
Video: OILERS TODAY | Yamamotivated 01.08.20
As that process continues, it's become quite evident Yamamoto is like the dog and the puck is like the bone.
"I've always been tenacious on the puck. Part of it stems from a few fights and battles I had with my brother," laughed Kailer, referring to his older sibling and fellow Spokane teammate Keanu, who now plays at McGill University in Montreal.
While his size might be the first thing you notice, the second could easily be the 21-year-old's compete level.
"I really like the way he competes hard," Tippett said. "And that he uses his size to his advantage especially around the opponent's net. He gets free and stays free."
The coach is noticing and so are his teamates and linemates.
"He's a good kid. He works hard," is how Ryan Nugent-Hopkins describes his linemate. "He's tenacious on pucks and not afraid to go get it."
What Yamamoto wants to get more than anything is a full-time job in the NHL and to prove the AHL is part of his past not his present or future.
"I feel a lot better personally this time compared to last time," Yamamoto said of this call-up. "I feel more comfortable and it's going good so far."
Now all he needs to do is continue to show the Kailer instinct to secure a spot once and for all with the Edmonton Oilers.