Everyone in the Spokane Chiefs’ organization knew that the 2016-2017 season was not going to be easy. With several young players added to its roster, a transition period was to be expected. At least the Chiefs can count on one constant variable in the form of winger Kailer Yamamoto.
The 18-year-old has notched 22 goals and 49 points in 31 games this year. He leads his team in scoring, and is certainly one of the reasons why the Chiefs are right in the thick of the playoff race as teams return from the holiday break.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound right winger has always had to work hard for each possession and each point. Like many smaller players, it is his work ethic and pure grit that allow him to be successful, as well as his commitment to his teammates.
While several young players try to tweak their game around stars like Steven Stamkos or Connor McDavid, Kailer Yamamoto has a different role model in Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers.
"Like me, he's not big, but he's capable of scoring points while being effective at both ends of the rink," says Yamamoto. "He’s a team player who puts his teammates first and works hard, and who can also score important goals."
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But Zuccarello is not the only NHL player who has influenced the Chiefs’ winger who, incidentally, was born in Spokane.
"My favorite player has always been Sidney Crosby. He pushes and motivates me to be better everytime I watch him play.”
Crosby was the first pick of the 2005 draft while Zuccarello went undrafted. Kailer Yamamoto is expected to be selected in the top 20 in the NHL entry draft next June but for the moment he’s not really thinking about that.
"Playing in the National Hockey League has been a dream of mine ever since I can remember, but I try to focus on one day at a time and not think too much about the draft this summer."
Even if he’s not thinking about the draft, Yamamoto - who left home for Los Angeles at 14 to go improve his game and who will compete in the Sherwin-Williams Top Prospect game at the end of January with Team Orr - already has a few ideas about which vehicle, or vehicles, he’d like to buy with his first NHL contract.
"I had a Chrysler Pacifica to go to practice when I was 16, but I currently drive my dad’s Ford F-150 King Ranch. I'd like to buy his truck after signing my first contract. I like the Mercedes-Benz G-Class too."
And his dream garage?
"I would say the BMW i8 to go with the G-Class, and probably a Ferrari or a Lamborghini."
With a mix of speed and grit, Kailer Yamamoto’s car collection will certainly reflect its owner.