CHICAGO – A quick glance at Kailer Yamamoto on Friday night, and you might have mistaken him for a young Edmonton Oilers fan looking for autographs inside United Center. Which is to say that although he was wearing an Oilers sweater, his boyish features and short stature could have caused some justifiable confusion.
But he was given that jersey by GM Peter Chiarelli, as the No. 22 pick overall in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft. And as he stood on stage with Oilers executives, coach Todd McLellan and hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, one thing was clear about the 18 year old from the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL:
This guy is crazy short.
In fact, Yamamoto is the shortest player ever taken in the first round of the NHL Draft at 5 feet and 7 and three-quarters inches – a fact he was unaware of until being told in post-draft interviews.
“I think I weigh the lightest, too,” said Yamamoto, who tips the scales at 148 pounds.
Had this been a few years earlier, Yamamoto isn’t a first rounder. His stats were outstanding, for sure: 99 points in 65 games last season for Spokane. But the NHL wasn’t always a place for 5-7 forwards, at least not at pick No. 22.
But a few outstanding players of short stature made the world safe for Kailer Yamamoto.
He and Johnson train together, as Johnson’s mother was actually a skating coach for him.
“Watching him in the NHL, who he is as a person. He’s someone I want to emulate. He’s an unbelievable guy, unbelievable friend and I hope to play against him one day,” said Yamamoto.
The Oilers didn’t interview Yamamoto at the NHL Combine, but instead took him to dinner – learning more about his play, his character and his unique background for hockey.
Yamamoto is a quarter Japanese. His grandfather, on his father’s side, was in the internment camps.
To be able to bring that heritage to th rink is an honor for him. “It’s unbelievable to have Japanese heritage in the NHL one day,” said Yamamoto, who said he’s never had any problems with opponents or fans regarding that heritage.
“No, actually. Everywhere I’ve gone people have treated me with the utmost respect. Playing, laughing, giggling,” he said.
The next step for him as a player?
“Obviously, I need to get bigger. I’m a little light,” he said. “I need to gain those pounds to get to that appropriate body weight.”
What can we expect the smallest first-rounder in NHL history topping out at?
“My brother’s about 160 right now, so maybe 170,” he said.
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