Friday, August 10, 2018

What really happened with Yamamoto? (intro, plus thoughts on his part of the story)

The spirit of this blog is to examine the building blocks of the public discourse among Oilers fandom.

For example, when we're talking about Yamamoto's role in this upcoming season - which could very well be substantial - people enter with their conclusions about Kailer's 9 games and go from there. If you believed he wasn't physically ready for the NHL you would remark that if he's put on enough weight or gotten strong enough he'll be able to step in this year. If you believed he was too raw positionally, you'd talk about whether or not he adapts to the system quick enough to not get cut; perhaps you'd wonder aloud if he'll take to new coaches instructions better. Maybe you thought his shot or finish lacked polish or strength (he did not score a single regular season goal) and you'd add if he's got that down he's got his job. You could be one who just thought he wasn't ready in any area, and blasted the coach from the start for keeping him aboard the first few preseason games.

But with any version, you come to the table with your idea of his performance 9 months ago, and then pose your questions and your arguments thereafter.

In this series, we will put your (and my) recollection to the test, and explore the pathways traveled before you arrived at your premise.

First, let's explore what the data can tell us by itself. If you've any interest in non-goal advanced metrics, you'd know that they paint about as positive a picture as it gets of Yamamoto's 9 games in 5v5 play.

This is a map of Yamamoto's individual shots. The (by far) most popular assessment of Yamamoto's season was that he did not yet have the strength to play to the inside against NHL-size defenders, but the clustering of unblocked, on-goal shots in the slot runs counter to that assessment. Of course, by simply having the shot locations one could refute that statement by responding that although most of his shots were in dangerous area, his shot rate is more important and just because he did get his shots off doesn't mean he got them off often enough to be a scoring threat. Is that a valid notion?

         Per 60 minutes
Rank among NHL forwards
    Rank among Oilers
Shot attempts
Unblocked Shot Attempts
Shots on Goal
Scoring Chances
High Danger Chances

Small sample sizes, of course, but the only similarly-small sample members of the top end of the NHL in these metrics were Daniel Sprong and Filip Chytil, two excellent young players who I believe will have long, successful NHL careers.

Along now, to the centremen. Todd McLellan - correctly, in my view - went skill line or no line as an approach for Kailer. Here's how it broke down, by the minute:

  • 67 minutes with Connor McDavid
  • 34 minutes with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
  • 7 minutes with Leon Draisaitl
  • 9 minutes with Mark Letestu

The big question here is obviously if McDavid was zooming him to his ludicrous shot contribution rates. Well, that question is always more-so how much does McDavid zoom someone. You could say Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was carrying him in the non-McDavid moments, but I'd contend that the Nuge doesn't have that kind of ability, not just not at 97's level, but he generally doesn't pull up scoring rates and isn't a very potent scoring presence on by his lonesome at 5 on 5.

I have these side by side because it's better than vertically aligning them in terms of easy comparisons, for my eyes at least, hope yours too, but you'll have to tap/click and zoom in. They are the shot maps for the Oilers with Yamamoto and without McDavid as a standalone, then relative to the team average, then relative then relative to the league average. The rels betray the raw a bit in regards to the centre-slot, but we can easily see a cooling-effect in net-front action. The other effect is an imbalance of shots from the left face-off circle area as opposed to the right. This is a good point of interest for our video reviews: Was Yamamoto trying to shoot from the right, but getting the puck or his body blocked? Or was he over on the left side getting the opposite side one-timer angles? Or, was he passing up opportunities to shoot because he could pass it to the opposite side for a better shot? Remember these are the Oilers shots, not Yamamoto's alone. Was he shooting from higher up at the right circle because he was getting closed on and shied away from contact?

Which brings us to the piping-hot point area. Were the Oilers resigning themselves to point shots because they were getting muscled out of the cycle game? Or were they coached to take more point shots, and this had an effect on the lack of shots down low?

There's a lot to ponder here, and to reflect upon once we start getting to the video reviews.

What I also wanted to get a visual on, was the effect not of McDavid on Yamamoto, but Yamamoto on McDavid:

We haven't talked defense much yet in the data portion of this post, but I included the defensive end for these maps to pivot that direction.

You'll see additional evidence to this assertation in a bit, but, what I'll say now is that there's nothing in the data to suggest that Kailer was a drag defensively. This - and the offensive end as well - is obviously affected by the size of the sample as well as the timing of it. In the early stages of the 2017-18 NHL season, the Oilers were a dominant possession team, no matter who was on the ice.

     Score and Venue adjusted %
               Rank in NHL
      Shot attempts for %
     Unblocked shots for %
     Scoring Chances for %
 High Danger Chances for %

(The Edmonton Oilers, Game 1-12 2017-18, via

 So, when examining players' numbers who only participated in these early contests and contrasting them with players who played the full season, you absolutely must take this effect into account. Of course, these players contributed to this early success and full season's players contributed to the regression, but we can easily see from the uniformity of the effect across the roster that these are the more results of the group, than any individual's overriding influence.

  • Darnell Nurse first 12 games at 60+% all metrics, ~50% final 72 games
  • Connor McDavid first 12 games 58+% all metrics, ~51% final 72 games
  • Leon Draisaitl first 12 games 54+% all metrics, ~51% final 72 games
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first 12 games 53+% all metrics, ~49% final 72 games
  • Adam Larsson first 12 games 54+% all metrics, ~50% final 72 games

You get the idea. Players like Jussi Jokinen, Brad Malone, Eric Gryba and our subject Kailer Yamamoto all have sterling possession numbers, it's important to understand the environment they were in.

When we're just dealing with percentages, though, we don't know which sides is driving Yamamoto's to the positive side of the ledger or how. He could be giving up more shots - we do know from the map that they wouldn't be from the slot; but you could argue that's the defensemen at work and not Kailer, and that those heat-spots up high and far to the side are indeed coming from Yamamoto's mark - and while doing so(giving up more shots) he's simply landing north of a 50% share by having that much more shots-for, offensively. We'll consult the replacement chart:

If he was indeed winning higher event minutes, the blue boxes would be running lower than the red boxes. The effect on the vertical axis - rate of shots against - is negligible.

The point I want to make here, though, is again that you can't argue that Yamamoto is poor defensively or in possession based on the data, but you can't make a terribly strong case of the opposite either. 

So, what are we looking for when it comes to the video?

First things first, I'm going to only be consulting the regular season games, because criticism of choosing to review preseason play is both easily made and easily understood as valid. There's tons of minutes against non-NHL competition and actual-NHL competition that doesn't give a hoot. I will, however, be putting together a small highlight video just to illustrate why the coaching staff could not really send down Yamamoto on merit. This reduces the narrative that Yamamoto shouldn't have broken camp to the argument that he should have been sent down regardless of playing well, as opposed to the argument that he didn't play well. I have time solely for the former, sorry. I hope you'll agree after I've made my case, visually.

Then, within our regular season NHL parameters, what will I be looking for? In order of importance:
  1. Positioning and strength in puck battles
  2. Forechecking effectiveness; stick and body
  3. Shooting quality in power, selection, release time and positioning
  4. Man-marking in all three zones
  5. Puck retention, protection and possession-driving decision and execution
This will be a different format than in the Draisaitl series, where we went game-to-game and contextualised the play within the ebb and flow of the season,  instead just pure compilations of specific plays and situations. If you have anything to add or ask, please let me know, as I have yet to capture the video and so I can grab anything you want along the way.

What follows in this post is my personal view of what this prospect is and what to do with him in the larger scope of the organisation moving forward, added in the interest of letting you know my biases in evaluation and the conclusion I'll likely be subconsciously pulled towards during this project, and will hopefully help frame my mindset going into this, and what my thoughts and biases are on Yamamoto as a player. I also just wanted to get it all out, and that's half the point of this blog. It's rather non-sequitur, hence this disclaimer.


I'll first note that although I'm entering this project as a fan of Yamamoto's immediate prospects of becoming an NHL player, I won't be arguing that he should absolutely be on the team in the fall, in fact it's not even what I would personally do. It's my belief that the best most beneficial move for the organisation would be to start him in the AHL - to the benefit of both clubs. I haven't just recently come to this conclusion, in fact I've tried to get all the moving parts form such a decision nailed down, for example on July 11th on's comments I wrote up this plan for 2018-19 fall:

"I think the way to put a positive 5v5 team on the ice, with the forwards we currently have, is to squeeze together two high event lines and run them hard. Complement that with two low event lines below.

When I say high event, this is what I mean:

Two lines coud have outscored the competition at a three to two rate.

One of them scores three goals an hour and allows two, the other scores 6 goals an hour and allows four.
The former puts their team ahead by one goal an hour, the latter puts their team up by two goals an hour.

This is important because the problem with Edmonton last year is they gave up the goals that McDavid put them ahead by.

When he was on the ice last year 5 on 5, they scored 81 goals and allowed 61, when he was on the bench, they scored 82, and allowed 111. 

That’s plus-20 for Connor, minus-29 without him for a net -9.

Where was this given back? In a couple of areas.

When Letestu was on the ice without Connor, the team scored 13 goals and allowed 27, for a net -14.
That cannot stand, it is over 75% of the edge McDavid gained the team. Part of it is goaltending, but the poor footspeed and subsequently poor coverage had a real impact there. I would not expect this to repeat to such a grave extent, given replacement of the player and an assumption of regression(the good kind) from Cam Talbot.

Leon Draisaitl, playing away from both McDavid and Nuge, was on the ice for 24 goals for and 34 against, for a net -10.

This, this is repeatable. You stick Leon with poor linemates again, and you’re rolling the dice.
The primary goal here, and the most difficult task is to find Leon wingers with two-way ability and actual offense.

If you project Connor on-ice to return to the +30 levels from 2016-17, which is a real possibility given he’ll likely play with Nuge the whole year, then you could construct something like this:

Nuge – McDavid – Strome

– The key here is to stabilise the strongest offensive line 97 has been on thus far in his career. The Rattie version’s concern is the unsustainable conversion rate: both teams got equal high danger chances when they were on the ice, but Edmonton cashed 8 of theirs and the opposing team only 3.

McDavid outpaces the entire NHL at creating and converting these chances, but Nuge has had real trouble with it over his NHL career at 5 on 5 and Rattie’s got little history. 

You can run Rattie to start, but in my opinion Strome should be the first replacement. Over his career, Strome’s had more than a few successful stints on skill lines, and a few unsuccessful ones that appeared to be enough to sour his coach’s idea of him.

( points per hour – teammate – total toi with teammate )

In 2014-15:
  • 2.57 with Anders Lee in 466 minutes
  • 2.50 with Brock Nelson in 384 minutes
  • 2.49 with Frans Nielson in 313 minutes

In 2015-16:
  • 1.07 with John Tavares in 506 minutes <– Spot the career killer?
  • 2.02 with Mikhail Grabovski in 356 minutes
  • 1.41 with Brock Nelson in 255 minutes

In 2016-17:
  • 1.40 with Brock Nelson in 343 minutes
  • 1.71 with Anthony Beauvillier in 245 minutes
  • 1.39 with Shane Prince in 216 minutes

In 2017-18:
  • 2.48 with Leon Draisaitl in 193 minutes
  • 2.02 with Jesse Puljujarvi in 237 minutes
  • 1.82 with Juhjar Khaira in 263 minutes

I think there's an optimistic yet realistic way to interpret these numbers. He blew the doors off 14-15 with a stable line, was oil-and-water in an audition with Tavares that lasted longer that it should have, and had an awful year in 2016-17… where the whole team couldn't score 5v5.

The Islanders, in 2016-17, had all their regular forwards between 6.0 and 9.6 on-ice shooting percentage, and ONE forward above 2.00 5v5 points per 60.

Anders Lee scored 1.22/60 that year. He had 40 goals in 17-18.

There's also an economic advantage to putting Strome here over other players: he's locked in for next year. You're boosting the numbers of a guy already locked into a contract, as opposed to other options(Puljujarvi, Rattie, Rieder, Aberg) who are on expiring contracts.

Rieder – Draisaitl – Puljujarvi

Rieder over Lucic is a good point of discussion for high-event vs low-event. 

Draisaitl with Lucic, away from McDavid: 2.00 goals per hour, in a sample of three hours.

Draisaitl without Lucic or McDavid: 2.95 goals per hour.

This is where you want the higher event minutes. Say the shooting percentage corrects from the 6% Looch and Leon were shooting to raise their GF/60 to 2.5, and both lines give up 2.0 per hour(I don't believe Milan is better than Rieder defensively at this point), you want that extra goal per hour.

Puljujarvi rounds out this line with what I believe to be the best remaining two way ability of the RW's, in both ways. Jesse Puljujarvi with 2.37/60 with Leon with 2.37/60 with Puljujarvi.

Leon, as a centre away from Hall and McDavid, hasn't outscored the opposition thus far. I think this mix of wingers has talent with and without the puck, and speed for days.

As for the rest of the lineup, keeping them low-event is key. It will basically be two fourth lines, Khaira and Brodziak down the middle.

Another option is signing Nick Shore. He is 92nd percentile in shot suppression, that's the key metric for this half of the lineup.

There's also a way to force low event minutes using your D pairing. Using Bouchard or Bear on the third pairing and playing them with one of these lines out would be a no-no. I would nominate a Sekera-Russell or Nurse-Russell pairing here, to solve two problems. You keep the poor-transition game of Russell away from the speedy, rush-happy top lines, and use the chance-suppression of Russell to drive down the danger of having these lines out against more talented opposing third lines.

So, onto the rough projection. Teams spent between 3825 – 4089 minutes 5v5 last year, let's assume the NHL lies again about cracking down on obstruction and calls the same amount of penalties. Let's use 4000 minutes, and a static GA/60 of 2.0/60 for the bottom two lines(this is about what a bubble team scores without their top two lines on), and assume that the top two lines get scored on a more than that due to competition.

Nuge – McDavid – Strome
(1200 minutes)
3.6 GF/60 – 2.5 GA/60
72 GF – 50 GA <– The reason this is lower than last year's 81 is because McDavid will spend some double shifts with other lines
( +22 )

Rieder – Draisaitl – Puljujarvi
(1100 minutes)
2.8 GF/60 – 2.6 GA/60
51 GF – 47 GA
( +4 )

Everyone else
(1700 minutes)
1.5 GF/60 – 2.0 GA/60
43 GF – 56 GA
( -13 )

That all grades out to a +13 5v5 team, 166 GF(The Oilers scored 163 last year) and 153 GA(down from… a lot, pray for goaltending). 

The 52.02 GF% that represents would give them a real fighting chance at the playoffs, the rest would be up to special teams.

Note, this is a rough, rough, rough estimate and is not supposed to actually model anything, just to demonstrate the arithmetic of the concept. Nobody keeps lines together for that many minutes, no shooting and save% are that uniform, nothing, nothing about this is realistic. It's just some concrete numbers to help you visualise what I'm trying to put forth here.

Nor do I believe this is what the Oilers might do. I'd pencil Rattie in for that top line job, it'd surprise me if neither Yamamoto or Bouchard make the team, and Todd McLellan and I have been pretty far apart on deployment steady."

Back to present day, I still believe this is a strong approach. Any line with Yamamoto on it in Bakersfield would easily be one of the strongest youth-driven lines that a minor-league team feeding Edmonton has ever had. The fans in Bakersfield deserve a 40-win team, and the list of beneficiaries from success this fall in that city is long. Jay Woodcroft, Tyler Benson, Yamamoto himself, the veterans carving out a place guiding the youngsters, the veterans being pushed down the lineup into softer minutes, the young defensemen passing pucks to forwards with boots and skill. 

Kailer would not be entering the season still looking for his first professional goal, rather adding his first NHL tally to over a dozen gathered in California.

Make no mistake: Yamamoto would shred the AHL. There should be no questions about the offense of this prospect. To make a point in short, I'll now ball-park his production based on his WHL offense:

Via Gabriel Desjardins' League Equivalencies, WHL players are said to take 43% their points to the AHL. Yamamoto finished last year with 1.6 points-per-game on his campaign, put that through the equivalency and you get 0.69(…) points per game. Past that points to progression, in my opinion, so if by the first 20 games he's got 15 points or more, you call him up and send down Ty Rattie, barring the Nuge-McDavid-Rattie configuration being both real and spectacular.

I expect Yamamoto to be capable of this, and am quietly confident in hoping he blows next year out of the water. I'm vulnerable to overvaluing peculiar players - I love Yohann Auvitu, Milan Lucic, Samuel Girard, Jesse Puljujarvi, Micheal Grabner, Andreas Athanasiou, anyone you can tell who's got the puck without looking at the number. One-trick ponies, uncommon combinations. I was surprised and delighted when Chiarelli called Kailer's name, as this personal pull towards the unique was also married to a data driven viewpoint that Kailer Yamamoto undeniably had top-10 skill. On draft day, my thought was that perhaps there was a chance of offsetting the future-altering trades that lowered the ceiling of the team. Not fully un-ringing the bell, but fate dropping Puljujarvi via centre-bias, Yamamoto via size-bias, and even now Evan Bouchard onto the team already blessed with Connor McDavid.

Which is why I think it's so important to have Yamamoto work out. Using his success at creating dangerous chances against men in the NHL last year to point us in the direction that he'll smash the AHL, we can comfortably project the butterfly effect out from that decision: Puljujarvi getting guaranteed ice-time via lack of alternatives to the coaching staff, Benson getting a truly offensive opposite winger to find out if he really could bring offense to the pro level. We can even use the lesson of last year about Kailer's confidence - we know confidence works both ways - if he had a substantial cooling period after returning to the AHL post-perceived-personal failure in the NHL, could we not project the opposite effect from promoting him to the NHL, post-goalscoring-streak in the AHL? 

Bringing it back to Jay, he should be getting all the help he can get when it comes to forwards. In the coming years, he'll be trusted to numerous shots from distance developmentally. Let's give him a layup. some success preceding the critical cluster of complementary players the Oilers will need. Now Yamamoto and Benson and Marody, next it'll be Safin; Maksimov; McLeod. The winners-bias of AHL free agents is just as real as the NHL version, the race to 40 wins is on. You'd better find out if Woodcroft can win and can develop early, before you're in dire straits if he doesn't. He's a powerplay man and Yamamoto is an effective player there - I've watched Spokane and I'll be watching Bakersfield - between the forwards and Bear and Jones the weapons are there. If he can't get a line and a unit with Kailer and Cooper to score, are you going to lay McLeod, who will be a difficult prospect to bring to his potential, at his feet? I'm not asking that question in a mean-spirited way, just illustrating the urgency there should be (and in some ways, has been) applied to the Bakersfield problem.

Yamamoto is one of the pieces remaining. How many are there? This club has 3 good young top-six forwards, 3 good young top-four defencemen. Bear and Bouchard and Puljujarvi and Yamamoto are on the way, then the Oilers will be right in the race. Problem is, there's no fail-safe. I've said now in a lot of ways how important this prospect is.

It is also important, then, to understand what Yamamoto is today in the NHL based on what he was last fall. Because whenever a team fails to develop a prospect, this ground we're standing on right now gets forgotten, as if it was always a foregone conclusion and the player was never truly likely to do anything but run a course into an early European career. All this about not taking their talents with them to the NHL game, even if the early returns betray that narrative.

So, so far, what did really happen with Yamamoto?

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