It’s almost time for the NHL Draft which means it’s everyone’s favorite season: trade speculation season! Like the build-up to the trade deadline, the lead-up to the NHL Draft is full of what-if’s, maybe’s and how-about-this’.\
One name is brought up seemingly ad nausem: Nail Yakupov. The first overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft has become everyone’s favorite trade rumor over the last several months. He slumped his way to a mediocre sophomore year, dropping to 11 goals and 24 points, both less than his rookie year totals and in 15 less games to boot. Many feel as though the Oilers are desperate to make a change and that the young, enigmatic Russian could be on the move.
That last sentence is hands down the most ridiculous statement being made these days and that’s including the group of Leafs fans who still think Dion Phaneuf could bring back a King’s ransom in trade.
Think about it for a second: a team selected a player with the first overall pick in the draft and wants to trade him just two years later? Even Patrik Stefan got second and third chances longer than that. Yakupov is still just 20 years old. Can you realistically expect a 20-year-old to have figured out the NHL game and all of its complexities? It takes time and patience to let him develop and find his game through the ups and downs even though the downs might not be as fun as the ups.
Remember, it was just two years ago that Yak was impressing the league with his passion and scoring prowess. In the lockout-shortened 2012/13 season, he played in all 48 of the team’s games, picking up 17 goals (best in the NHL among rookies) and 31 points (tied with Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau for the rookie lead). When he wasn’t named a Calder Trophy finalist, many felt he had been unfairly snubbed.
Sure, last year was bad. Yak struggled to find any consistency and looked to have lost a little confidence but what do you expect when your team is shuffling you around lines, you’re a healthy scratch at times and your fans are telling you that you’re a bum who should be traded? Again, he’s just a 20-year-old kid. He needs time to mature and develop into the player he will become. There’s also the fact that he didn’t get to finish out the last several Oilers games, losing the rest of
his season to a fractured ankle in March.
His potential is still through the roof – he has top-line skating and shooting abilities, the kind that don’t just grow on trees – and he’s already got the benefit of two seasons under his belt. Typically, young guys seem to find their stride either in year two or year three, so his breakout season could be just a few months away.
There is the looming threat of a Russian defection, but that has yet to come from anyone other than Nail’s dad, Rail. His dad coaches Neftekhimik, the team Nail played for prior to joining the Oilers. Given the reputation of Russian players – Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Radulov have certainly painted a generalized portrait of their brethren – it’s easy to understand why Yakupov would be such a threat to leave if things continue to go poorly.
Despite all the bad times, the Yakupov’s potential is still through the roof. He’s still growing his game at 20-years-old and the Oilers need to be patient with him if they want to benefit. It would be a foolish move to abandon ship on a first overall pick this early in the game.
The panic button may be right there, but surely GM Craigh MacTavish can’t be foolish enough to press it, can he?
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