Though he checks in at just five-foot-eight and 153 pounds, Edmonton Oilers prospect Kailer Yamamoto is thinking big.
The Spokane, Wash., native is fresh off of signing his first NHL contract after being selected 22nd overall in the 2017 NHL Draft, and while Yamamoto has been dominating at the junior level – he amassed 42 goals and 99 points in just 65 games for the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs last season – the 18-year-old has his eyes on the big leagues.
But he isn’t trying to make that leap alone. Yamamoto has a pretty decent mentor to lean on as he continues his development: undersized NHL star, and fellow Spokane native, Tyler Johnson.
The Tampa Bay Lightning pivot has plotted a fairly promising path for his young counterpart to follow, turning a breakout 115-point season with the Chiefs into a shot in the NHL. Johnson ran with that opportunity, of course, eventually becoming a mainstay among the Lightning’s top six, culminating in a career-best 72-point season in 2014-15.
“He’s been a huge role model, ever since I was a little kid,” Yamamoto told IIHF.com’s Dhiren Mahiban on Saturday. “(I’ve) taken moves from his book. I work out with him in the summer, seeing how hard he works in the summers, how hard he works on the ice – it’s unbelievable.”
The pair’s roots run deep, as it was Johnson’s mother who in fact taught Yamamoto how to skate. Now it’s the younger Johnson doing the teaching, and Yamamoto said he’s taken a fair few gems of motivation from the Lightning star.
“Making sure no one is outworking me and making sure that my size isn’t being in the way,” Yamamoto said of the advice Johnson has given him. “Making sure people who don’t believe in me, I block them out. I believe in myself.”
It’s fair to say Johnson’s advice has stuck. Yamamoto finished 2016-17 as the sixth-highest scorer in the WHL, and recently suited up for Team USA at the world junior summer showcase to prepare for the 2018 World Junior Championship in Buffalo.
And given the stardom recently attained by fellow undersized young guns like Johnny Gaudreau and Mitch Marner, it seems Yamamoto has as good a chance as any to make the jump to the next level.
“Size doesn’t matter,” Yamamoto told Mahiban. “It’s what’s in your heart – it’s whether you have no fear, if you have the confidence.”