Hockey World: The Yakupov question
Do the Oilers keep developing the former first-round draft pick or seriously consider trading him?
Frank Franklin III/The Associated Press, File
Photograph by: Frank Franklin II, AP
What should the Edmonton Oilers do with Nail Yakupov?
Do they work with him and take several steps back, consider him just a project like any other draft pick — not the first name called — and hope he finds some hockey sense to go with his hockey skill? You need both.
Or do they seriously investigate trading a 20-year-old with 111 games on his NHL resume?
Do they cut bait after taking the winger first overall in 2012 with high-end defencemen available (most notably Ryan Murray) and see what they can get for Yakupov at this June’s draft?
Creative general manager Craig MacTavish, who will be getting a draft pick in the top five, might want two, which would mean hounding Buffalo Sabres counterpart Tim Murray to see if he would want Yakupov. The Oilers would have a possible daily double — Barrie Colts defenceman Aaron Ekblad and Prince Albert Raiders’ six-foot-two, 209-pound centre Leon Draisaitl.
Buffalo has the best lottery odds for first pick overall, but could also be getting the New York Islanders’ choice as part of the Thomas Vanek-Matt Moulson trade months back.
The Sabres are open for business for the Islanders’ pick if they fork it over this June. In 2015, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, both centres, will be the top two picks and every team will want first-rounders in a much deeper pool.
Or do the Oilers suck it up with Yakupov and admit he’s nowhere near two other former first overall picks, John Tavares and Steve Stamkos, who had growing pains as rookies but got significantly better. In Stamkos’s case, way better in Year 2.
Judging by the inspired, game-in, game-out smart play of 18-year-old Colorado Avalanche rookie Nathan MacKinnon, it’s safe to say Yakupov is not in his league, either.
Yakupov has a heckuva shot, he has a flare for the dramatic, he wants the puck, but will he ever get the requisite hockey savvy? I remember asking Scotty Bowman once what he looked for in a player: He liked skill, but he definitely had hockey sense and character high up in his priorities.
MacTavish is patient, like a GM should be, but he’s also a keen evaluator. Yakupov is on the shakiest ground of MacT’s Big Five, which also include Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz.
There’s certainly drop-offs after good rookie seasons. But Yakupov has gone from 31 points (minus-five) in 48 lockout season games to 24 points (minus-33) in 63 games this year.
Latvian centre Zemgus Girgensons, the 14th-overall pick in Yakupov’s draft year, has 20 points in 61 games but is only minus-5 in Buffalo.
The Oilers have continually given Yakupov good looks in their top-six forwards — a few times at the expense of David Perron, who has more goals than Yakupov has points. The versatile Perron has played on a third line with worker-bees Boyd Gordon and Matt Hendricks.
Here’s the book on Yakupov: Blistering wrist shot, but not an easy player to play with. Quick, not really a give-and-go player; there’s not a lot of subtlety to his game. Again, he’s young and there are learning curves, but the Oilers have three very good wingers in Hall, Eberle and Perron. They have holes elsewhere.
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