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Draft notebook: Yamamoto cherished time playing with his brother

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Kailer Yamamoto vividly remembers the first time he "dangled" his older brother Keanu. The two were playing in their basement in Spokane, Wash., and Kailer ended up with a dentist appointment to show for it.

"He got a little mad and ended up cross-checking me from the back," Kailer recalled. "I couldn't stop and I just hit the cross bar. My front two teeth came out."

If any hint of that sibling rivalry still exists today, it was impossible to detect from the way Kailer spoke about Keanu at the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo on Saturday. He spoke glowingly of his older brother, referring to him not only as an inspiration but also as one of his biggest fans.

Imagine, then, what the past three years must have been like for the Yamamoto brothers. The two spent that time as teammates playing junior hockey in their hometown, for the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League.

"I'm going to cherish it for the rest of my life," Kailer said. "It's probably the best three years of my life, being able to live at home and play with my older brother. He's probably my biggest role model growing up. I took a lot of notes from his book and I don't think I would be where I'm at without him."

Kailer recalled the nerves he felt before his first game with Chiefs at age 16, and said that Keanu was the only person who could say the right things to calm him down. He cherished the talks the two would have on their way to and from games.

It was during that time that Kailer, a fifth-round pick in the WHL Bantam Draft in 2013, molded himself into a potential first-round pick in Chicago later this month. The 5-foot-8-inch forward has progressed in each of his three seasons with the team, culminating in a 99-point campaign (42+57) last season. He also scored 13 points (7+6) for Team USA en route to a gold medal at the U-18 World Junior Championship.

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Kailer's been compared to Tampa Bay Lightning centerman Tyler Johnson, another Spokane native of similar stature. Coincidentally, it was Johnson's mother who served as Kailer's first power skating coach when he was young, and Kailer has worked out with Tyler during the past three summers.

"Tyler's one of my big role models," Kailer said. "He's taught me a lot over those past three years and definitely helped me out and definitely helped me to get where I am today."

As for Keanu, his time in the WHL has come and gone; his eligibility came to an end at the end of last season after four years and 271 games with the Chiefs. But when Kailer's named is called in Chicago, he expects that no one will be happier than his older brother.

As for those postgame conversations, Kailer expects them to continue into his pro career.

"Definitely," he said. "I consider him my best friend in life right now. He's an unbelievable guy, unbelievable friend and unbelievable brother."

The two sure have come a long way from the basement.


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