Should Kailer Yamamoto be on the Rangers free agent radar?

NHL: New York Rangers at Edmonton Oilers
Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that the New York Rangers are a team that needs help and depth at the right wing position. For most other teams the solution is simple; sign a right winger in free agency today. But for New York, the limited cap space and restricted free agents that need to be signed cause some complications.

The start of Free Agent Frenzy begins today at noon, and a new wrinkle has been added to the mix. As of late yesterday, over 100 new unrestricted free agents were added to the pool due to buyouts and non-tendered qualifying offers to restricted free agents.

Enter 24-year-old Kailer Yamamoto, formerly of the Edmonton Oilers before he was traded to Detroit and bought out of his contract on Friday. Yamamoto jumped between the second and fourth line of an Oilers team that led the league in scoring last year.

For Yamamoto though, last year was a bit of a regression following a career high 41 points and 20 goals in 2021-22. It was a year that saw him produce just over 80% of his points at even strength.

Fast forward to the ‘22-’23 campaign and Yamamoto’s season was riddled with injuries that kept him out of 24 games, including a 12 game stretch in the middle of the year. During the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs Yamamoto accounted for just four points in 12 games for Edmonton, but provided the series winning goal in game six against Los Angeles with just over three minutes to play in regulation of a tie game.

Should Rangers target Kailer Yamamoto

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at New York Rangers
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Now to the burning question at hand; Does Kailer Yamamoto fit into this Rangers team? This means both financially and the on-ice product. On the ice, Yamamoto is a player that the Rangers would absolutely benefit from as soon as he steps on the ice. He is extremely responsible with the puck and able to force turnovers with his speed. At a bottom six role in New York, he would make the on ice product much harder to play against.

Here’s where the not so fun part begins. Does Yamamoto fit into the Rangers financially? It has been very well documented this offseason that the Rangers will have $11.76 million dollars to fill between six and nine roster spots, with the goal being around eight according to USA Today’s Vince Mercogliano. Yamamoto was just bought out of a two year, $6.2 million contract that saw a cap hit of $3.1 million per season. At that number, it is virtually impossible for the Rangers to sign who they need to, on top of that.

If you want to look for a comparable contract at his production over the past three years, look no further than Owen Tippet. Tippet has played in six less games than Yamamoto since the 2020-21 season and has recorded one more point. Tippet is in the final year of a two-year, $3 million contract with a cap hit of $1.5 million per season. If the Rangers are able to get Yamamoto to agree between $1.25 and $1.75 million AAV, the deal becomes a lot more possible.

At the end of the day, it seems rather unlikely that Yamamoto can fit into the financially strapped Rangers team. However, if he would be willing to take a pay cut following his regression from a career year two seasons ago, it could be a match made for both parties involved. With Yamamoto being so young and ready to be in the prime of his career, it wouldn’t be completely out of the woods for him to take a one year “prove-it” deal and try to cash in next season when the salary cap ceiling will jump by over $4 million.

The 5-8′ winger was selected in the first-round of the 2017 NHL Draft by the Oilers. For his young career spanning parts of six season, he’s registered 50 goals and 68 assists for 118 points in 244 games.

Steven Pappas is a North Jersey native who works as a news anchor and reporter at WHAM-13 in Rochester,... More about Steven Pappas

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