On Thursday, the Edmonton Oilers Rookies head off to Penticton for the annual Youngstars Tournament with the majority Oilers fans focused on 2017 1st round Pick Kailer Yamamoto.
Video: DRAFT | Yamamoto Behind the Scenes
The undersized Yamamoto (5-foot-8, 153-pounds) has already played two exhibition games with the Spokane Chiefs registering 2-2-4, with a plus-3, and given his unique offensive skill set will be a player to watch throughout Oilers training camp.
Yamamoto got on many scouts' radar screens after a stellar performance at the 2016 U-18 Championships in Grand Forks playing on a line with 2016 Ottawa 1st round pick Logan Brown and 2017 Buffalo 1st round pick Casey Mittelstadt.
That trio shredded traditional powers Russia, Sweden and Canada with Yamamoto picking up 7-6-13 in seven games in the tournament.
The thing that stood out to me was that Yamamoto did not need the puck to succeed. His hockey sense was off the charts with an innate ability to get to the right spot on the ice to finish off plays.
It goes without saying that a small player has no chance if he is slow too; but Yamamoto not only has quick feet and quick hands but most importantly he thinks quickly and as a result he can read and react, something which bodes well for an organization that has drivers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl signed long-term.
The Spokane native has spent the last few summers training with two NHL overachievers: Tyler Johnson and Derek Ryan.
Like Yamamoto, both Johnson (5-foot-8, 183-pounds) and Ryan (5-foot-11, 180-pounds) are undersized by NHL standards, both players literally willed themselves to the NHL.
Johnson parlayed a stellar 20-year-old season in the WHL (53-62-115, 71 GP) into a quiet recruiting war for his services, with the Oilers amongst his suitors in spring of 2011.
Ultimately Johnson selected the Tampa Bay Lightning, helping their AHL affiliate win a Calder Cup, before spending the last five seasons with the Bolts registering a career high 29-43-72 in 2014-15.
Ryan, played four seasons at the University of Alberta after his WHL career finished with Spokane before embarking upon a career overseas.
After excellent seasons in Austria and Sweden (where he was the SEL's MVP) Ryan returned to North America where he spent the last two seasons in the Carolina organization.
This summer on Oilers Now Derek Ryan commented on Yamamoto's work-out habits.
"Kailer trains like a pro," said Ryan.
Neither Johnson, nor Ryan, were drafted by NHL teams and clearly, Yamamoto, when compared to those players at age 18, has to be considered a much better long term prospect with a higher offensive ceiling.
In 2016-17 Yamamoto put up 42-57-99 in 65 games played for an offensively-challenged Spokane team that finished 14th in the WHL in goals scored.
The Chiefs are expected to be a much better team this season with LA's 2nd round pick Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Hudson Elynuik, Spokane's second and third top scorers last season also back, along with consensus 2018 1st round pick Ty Smith quarterbacking from the back end.
The wild card could be Yamamoto.
It is an interesting note that Yamamoto is only five months younger than Oilers 2016 1st round pick Jesse Puljujarvi.
My guess is both players will see a lot of action in pre-season.
It would not surprise me in the least given Yamamoto's hockey sense, ability to read and react and competitiveness that he will push hard for the spot on the Oilers.
For those fans worried about Kailer's size remember Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli's comment at the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago.
"Although he is small, he's not a small-skill guy," said Chiarelli. "He plays big. We saw him a lot and he didn't disappoint. He had some great games, we had some great viewings and I'm really happy with this pick."
And so to me Kailer Yamamoto becomes one of the most interesting players to watch, and that gets started this weekend in Penticton.