Kailer Yamamoto wasn’t traded at this season’s NHL Trade Deadline. That doesn’t mean the team and the GM didn’t contemplate the idea of it, especially since making any other changes to the roster meant money had to go out so money could come back in. Yamamoto’s $3.1 million salary being traded could have offered Ken Holland an opportunity to get another (cheaper) right-winger and a depth defenseman for the right side ahead of Friday’s deadline, but ultimately, Holland elected not to pull the trigger on a move.
As a result, Yamamoto will get the chance to show the Oilers he can be what they need — a top-six winger who can score goals in bunches and is more the 20-goal guy of last season than he is the often-injured and inconsistent top-nine guy fans have seen thus far in 2022-23. If Friday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets means anything, Yamamoto is the former.
Yamamoto scored a goal in Wednesday’s win over Toronto, but really hammered home the idea it was wise to hang onto him when he potted two consecutive goals in 40 seconds against the Jets. The Oilers went on to win the game 6-3.
The first goal came off of a beautiful breakaway deke thanks to teammate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins breaking up an odd-man rush at the other end against the Winnipeg Jets. The second one came when he hopped into the open ice slot area, putting a rebound top shelf. Those two goals gave him the fastest two goals by an Oilers player in nearly a decade – and the fastest two goals at HOME since Feb. 19, 2011 when Taylor Hall tallied twice in 39 seconds against the Atlanta Thrashers.
Questions about Yamamoto’s health have been ongoing this season. He’s been in and out of the lineup and a recent hit by Justin Holl in the Toronto game had fans worried again. But, he got the OK to return against the Jets and he made it count. When asked about his injury concern on Friday, he responded, “I’m starting to get back to my old self, it’s been a long year.”
That long year created questions about whether it was best to move on from Yamamoto and if he could withstand the rigors of the playoffs. He plays in-your-face hockey, but he’s smaller and potentially prone to injury since he only knows how to play one way. The Oilers will need him to be productive because there’s a hole on that right side if he’s not the one to fill it.
Could Yamamoto Get on a Roll
Reid Wilkins of 630 CHED tweeted on Saturday before the Oilers take on the Jets in the second of a back-to-back, “Beware the Yams of March: Yamamoto has three goals in two games this month. From March 9-24 in 2022 he had seven goals in eight games.” Perhaps he’s getting hot and if so, this is the ideal time for him to do so.
He’s starting to play a regular shift with Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and that line has a history of getting hot. If head coach Jay Woodcroft sees something in these three, expect him to go to that line a lot more often down the stretch.
As for sticking put with the Oilers past the trade deadline, Yamamoto says he’s relieved that day has come and gone and now he can just focus on playing hockey and being as productive as possible. The Oilers need to make a run in the very tight Pacific Division, which is also wide open for the taking.
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