Nail Yakupov was a fan favourite upon his arrival in Edmonton after being drafted first overall two years ago. He was open, bold, funny and endearing. His rookie campaign was as good as other players in the running, at least offensively speaking.
As most fans know, his time under new head coach Dallas Eakins has been rocky. His -33 rating along with a mere 24 points over 63 games had many wondering if the top pick was a mirage and a bust for the Oilers.
Historically speaking, Yakupov’s production when weighed against other first overall picks does give reason for concern. Alexander Ovechkin scored 198 points in his first two seasons. Sidney Crosby? 222 points. Let’s look at a few more. Patrick Kane scored 94 points in two seasons. Steven Stamkos had 141 points in his first two frames. Honestly, there are countless examples of first overall picks that have fared much better than young Yakupov.
Yakupov was compared to Pavel Bure and Steven Stamkos before he was drafted. In 107 games with the Sarnia Sting, Yakupov garnered 174 points. Stamkos scored 197, but had 17 more games under his belt. And if one peruses the history of these premier NHL’ers in their junior campaigns prior to coming to the big leagues, they are often underwhelming in contrast. So, was Yakupov simply a dynamo in junior and his game just doesn’t translate here?
Not so fast. Yakupov was drafted onto a team in shambles. And when he got here, the league was too, with the lockout sucking him dry of valuable major league experience. Not only that, he has had two coaches over 111 games, a major shift in culture and systems, as well as a line up in flux. Even former coach Ralph Krueger misused the young draftee, often putting him with low scoring grinders, instead of playmakers—also a kind of player Edmonton has in short supply.
With the draft, free agency and the summer trade season upon us, fans are less in love with the young Russian. They doubt his acumen, question his commitment and wonder if he shouldn’t be moved on. First, let’s look at the second line (the first line is Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle—that is set). David Perron is not a sure thing come opening night. He could get traded. Sam Gagner is nearly a lock to be shipped, and would move to the wing if he stays.
The Oilers will need to either draft a center or make a big splash to acquire one. If Yakupov is set with the proper linemates, he should see success. Frankly, guys like Ales Hemsky, Eric Belanger, Gagner, Ryan Jones and Jesse Joensuu are hardly the combos to ignite an up and coming forward. They are the guys he has developed with and all of them were at a low ebb in their careers.
The Oilers need to get stronger, maybe a little older and defintely more experienced. It behooves the Oilers to allow the player one year in situations where he can succeed before making any decisions on his fate. While he goes against history with his low total last season, he also achieved that low while a part of one of the worst teams of the last ten years. Should the team trade him, they ought to get back a player of first overall calibre. If they can’t? Gamble on Yak. I have a feeling he is about to unleash hell.