The question pops up almost every time the Oilers are being discussed. What to do with Nail Yakupov. The former first overall pick, now labeled as a bust, is constantly thrown around in trade scenarios while some Oilers fans argue he still has value within the organization. But there are times where the hate on Yakupov seems incredibly unfair. I explain:
Forget the fact that Nail Yakupov is a first overall pick, it’s essentially irrelevant. Is it his fault he was overvalued in his draft class by almost every scout? Its not, and it’s not his fault he was born in a draft year that lacked a prospect worthy of being a true #1 pick.
Instead let’s look at Nail Yakupov for what he is now and the potential he still has, because believe it or not, 22-year-old scoring wingers who has played less than 250 career games generally aren’t done developing. At the highest points of Yakupov’s game he is a top six winger who can contribute and play along-side elite talent (see the first 13 games of this season).
At his worst he is a defensive liability who still forechecks hard and manages to get at least 2 solid chances a night. But don’t try make Nail Yakupov into something that he isn’t.
Does he make mistakes in the neutral zone? Yes.
Does he turnover he odd puck in the neutral zone? He does.
Does every young player do that? THEY DO.
He may make those mistakes more than most, but he’s still only 22-years-old. He’s still 2-4 years away from his prime. Some players don’t learn as fast as others.
He will never be a solid two-way forward, he will never be a 50 goal scorer, he will never be a superstar, hell, Yakupov will probably never be an all-star. But don’t let the expectations he’s failed to meet drag down what he currently is as a player right now.
What Is He?
He’s a player, who when put in a complementary role with an offensive centerman, can better your team and chip in offensively. He currently sits 2nd on the Oilers in Shots/60 and Individual Corsi/60 behind only Taylor Hall. Essentially, he generates the 2nd most chances out of their forwards, while playing a good chunk of the year with Mark Letetsu.
And while his defensive numbers are incredibly poor, he still holds value to this Oilers team. This is a player who put up 10 points while playing one month with Connor McDavid and doesn’t have 10 points since. You can say that he doesn’t deserve to play with Connor McDavid because he hasn’t proven himself playing lower in the line-up. But why are you asking a 22 year old goal scorer to prove himself on a checking line, it’s like asking a fish to climb a tree.
There are arguments for both sides, maybe Yakupov simply needs a change of scenery, somewhere that will give him the opportunities that the Oilers aren’t. But maybe the Oilers should not look at Yakupov as a former first overall pick who hasn’t lived up to the hype, and instead look at him as a young offensive forward who can play in your top six and keep up with the highly skilled centermen this team has.
Oh and, did I mention this guy makes 2.5 million dollars? That’s the same as Lauri Korpikoski. It’s a value contract for a versatile, young, offensive player. It’s a bad decision to let that type of asset go for spare parts/draft picks.
Nail Yakupov is not a player who should have been drafted first overall, but he is not a player you give up on at age 22.