Perhaps all Kailer Yamamoto needs is a clean break.
There’s perhaps no better place to start with it than in familiar grounds.
The Seattle Kraken gave the former Edmonton Oilers right winger that opportunity, bringing the free agent with Washington state home ties and an injury-riddled 2022-23 season on a one-year contract worth $1.5 million, announced on Sunday shortly after day two concluded from Kraken development camp.
The news broke just in time as head coach Dave Hakstol met the media, minutes after leaving the ice from the final practice session of the day at Kraken Community Iceplex.
“He’s a good offensive player, he’s tenacious,” said Hakstol.
It’s a homecoming of sorts for Yamamoto, 24, who is the first state-born player ever to sign an NHL deal with the Kraken. He grew up in Spokane and forged a prolific major junior career in the Western Hockey League with the Spokane Chiefs, scoring 105 goals with 291 points across 230 games, tied for sixth on the franchise points list. Only four NHL’ers have more points in a Chiefs uniform than him: Valeri Bure, Travis Green, Pat Falloon, and the all-time leader in Ray Whitney. All four have combined to play over 3,000 NHL games.
You also won’t confuse Yamamoto with imposing giants of the NHL such as Milan Lucic, Tyler Myers or even a new teammate, Jamie Oleksiak. He checks in at just 5-foot-8 and 155 pounds, considered the lightest in the entire league. Matter of fact, he was the shortest player taken in the first round in NHL draft history, six years ago when Edmonton got him at 5-foot-7.
But his game isn’t built on the combo of brute size and force. It’s built on speed and agility. With a low risk deal in place, the Kraken hope he can recapture his 20-goal form from two years ago, when he appeared to be on the verge of a breakout with the Oilers. But fearlessness and determination, additional trademarks of his game, combined with lack of size can open the door for injuries, and Yamamoto hasn’t been immune to them. He missed chunks of his first two seasons with wrist and upper body ailments, then last season had two stretches of 11 games or more lost due to a lingering neck issue.
Simply put: speed and tenacity help Kraken players stay in the lineup. They will need him to stay healthy.
“He’s a guy who can use his competitiveness and his intelligence to get inside,” said Hakstol. “He’s not a perimeter guy. We’re excited to have him. His skill set is excellent. He’s very much a motivated player. He’s going to fit in very well with the makeup of our team – the way we’re built, and the way we play.”
Yamamoto, who beat out the heavier, 6-foot-4 Jesse Puljujarvi for a second line winger role last season, finished the season with 10 goals and 25 points in 58 points, and was limited to a goal and four points in 12 playoff games, as Edmonton’s Stanley Cup push was halted by the eventual champ Vegas in the second round.
Yamamoto became a free agent when the Oilers traded him with Klim Kostin to Detroit on Thursday, and the Red Wings bought out the remaining year and $3.1 million worth of his contract.
He has 118 points, 50 goals, and a +29 rating in 244 career NHL games, along with 12 points and three goals in 34 playoff games, becoming the second notable newcomer in as many days. The Kraken signed free agent defenseman Brian Dumoulin out of Pittsburgh, and have a projected $14 million in available cap space - also with defensemen Vince Dunn and Will Borgen looking for new contracts as restricted free agents.