With rumblings that Nail Yakupov has requested a trade from the Edmonton Oilers, there has been a lot of scrutiny of the player, the franchise and where he fits in the pantheon of poor first-overall selections.
Hindsight is great that way.
Not quite four years after Yakupov was selected with the top pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the 22-year-old forward has been an underachiever and is held out above everyone else as an example of why the Oilers franchise has struggled mightily over the last decade, all of which has been spent outside of the playoffs.
Monday, Sportsnet’s Mark Spector laid out his thoughts on how the club got it wrong from the outset with Yakupov, explaining that on the morning of the draft, the Edmonton brain trust voted 9-2 in favour of picking defensemen Ryan Murray, only to ignore the consensus and select the Sarnia Sting forward. As Spector points out, there were some other players in the draft that clubs liked – namely blueliners Hampus Lindholm, Morgan Rielly and Olli Maatta – but nobody had them as potential top picks.
All three ended up going in the first round and if you look back at the draft, Edmonton’s decision to swing for the fences with Yakupov makes a little more sense, given what the others in those first 10 picks have performed to this point in their careers.
Remember: it’s easy to say, “They made a mistake” or “They should have traded down” now, but the greater takeaway – as Spector notes in his column and as has been discussed here in the past – is that the NHL Draft is the biggest crap-shoot of the bunch.
Here’s a look back at the 2012 Top 10 with their NHL numbers to date in parenthesis.
Nail Yakupov (248 games: 48-59-107)
Yakupov hasn’t broken the 20-goal or 40-point plateau in any season and is definitely a disappointment, but looking at his OHL numbers heading into the draft, he was clearly the player with the highest offensive upside, having notched 80 goals and 170 points in two seasons with Sarnia.
Now, you can make the argument that Edmonton didn’t need more firepower up front and you wouldn’t be wrong, but the only other player most considered a candidate for the top spot was Murray and well, he hasn’t exactly lit the league on fire yet either.
Ryan Murray (153: 9-37-46)
The six-foot rearguard has been solid, but unspectacular in Columbus since being taken behind Yakupov. He’s a fixture in the lineup, but he’s not the top young defensemen on the team; that honour belongs to Seth Jones, who was acquired this season.
Murray has Barret Jackman potential, but hasn’t made the instant impact the Trail, British Columbia native did in St. Louis. Maybe he gets there in time, but right now, you’d still be saying Edmonton missed the target had they taken him first overall.
Alex Galchenyuk (269: 69-85-154)
The easiest “this is the guy they should have taken” player in the Top 10 based on point totals so far, Galchenyuk and Yakupov were teammates in Sarnia in 2010-11 and the latter outscored the former 101-83. More than anything, Galchenyuk’s development could serve as a “what could have been” had Edmonton opted to send Yakupov back down or had a better culture and coaching staff when he first arrived with the big club.
Griffin Reinhart (33: 0-2-2)
The fourth-overall pick has already been given his chance to start over with a new team, having been jettisoned from New York to Edmonton last summer and it still hasn’t taken. As poor as Yakupov has played as the first-overall pick, Reinhart has been a rough Top 5 choice too.
Morgan Rielly (228-18-71-89)
One of the building blocks for Toronto’s rebuild, Rielly is one of four defensemen taken in the next six picks that probably would have been a better option for Edmonton if they could have moved back in the draft. The problem was – and remains – that 2012 was a bad draft and there likely weren’t too many teams interested in matching Edmonton’s asking price for the No. 1 pick.
Hampus Lindholm (229-23-69-92)
Lindholm has tallied right around 30 points per season in each of his three years with the Anaheim Ducks and should be a fixture on their blueline for the foreseeable future. Again, no flash, not first-overall material, but would have been a solid, steady addition to a team that really needed help on the back end.
Mathew Dumba (147:19-23-42)
Dumba is in the midst of his first complete season in the NHL, having spent a little time on the farm last year, and he looks like he fits alongside the two ahead of him as another guy that will be a Top 4 defensemen in the league for a little while, but never a guy that you think of as a Norris Trophy candidate.
Derrick Pouliot (53:2-12-14)
Pouliot hasn’t had as much NHL time as the previous three blueliners, so the jury is still out. He was an offensive contributor in junior and could get there at some point, but he’s still probably a year away from being a regular with the Penguins.
Jacob Trouba (204: 23-46-69)
Again – rock-solid, but unspectacular, Trouba is going to be someone that plays big minutes on the blue line, and has shown hints of a little offensive potential than he’s produced thus far. He’d be great in Edmonton, but the Oilers were never going to move this far down in the draft or take him first-overall, so pointing him out as an example of how they screwed up is invalid.
Slater Koekkoek (10: 0-1-1)
Koekkoek has only enjoyed a cup of coffee with the Tampa Bay Lightning thus far and hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in the AHL either and he went 10th overall. As much as the Oilers might be kicking themselves for taking Yakupov, imagine how Tampa feels with Filip Forsbverg and his 125 points in 175 games going right behind Koekkoek.