According to Russia’s AllHockey, multiple NHL teams are interested in signing Nail Yakupov. The question is, who?
Who is Nail Yakupov?
Nail Yakupov, listed at 5’11” and 194 lbs, is a 25 year-old who is currently playing for SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. He was drafted Second overall by the Sarnia Sting in 2010. Yakupov, a native of Nizhnekamsk, Russia, moved to Canada at the young age of 17 to play for the OHL club. Yakupov took the OHL by storm, as the speedy winger scored 101 points in just 65 games. This incredible season led to immediate anticipation for the forward’s NHL future. Yakupov remained dominant in the OHL for the 2011-12 season (69P-42GP), leading to the birth of the “Fail for Nail” catchphrase. The perennially bad Edmonton Oilers selected Nail Yakupov 1st overall in the 2012 NHL Draft (the Oilers’ 3rd straight 1st overall pick). Unfortunately for Nail, his NHL career so far has been one of befuddling mismanagement.
Is Yakupov Really That Bad?
Nail Yakupov made his NHL debut in the 2012-13 season, following the conclusion of a 4 month-long labour dispute (Sept. 2012-Jan. 2013). Despite the drawbacks of missing 4 months of professional training, Yakupov had a productive rookie season, recording 17 goals and 31 points in 48 games.
Over the next 3 seasons, all of which were spent with the Albertan franchise, Yakupov produced 80 points in 204 (a total of 111 points in 252 games with the Oilers). This totals are solid, although not fantastic, and certainly not up to the superstar forward expectations the forward set for himself. Over this time on the (still) poor Oilers, Yakupov averaged 14:42 of ice time (3rd line comparable) and an abysmal 46.3 CF% while running with a PDO of 96.6, which is also poor.
According to Dom Galamini’s Hero Charts, Yakupov’s last 3 seasons in the NHL have been comparable to 4th line, defensively minded players. Neither of those aspects make Nail an especially good player and are certainly not what Yak was advertised as. However, there is a player to be salvaged in Yakupov.
Despite what Yakupov’s lackluster production and ho-hum analytics suggest, a large part of Yakupov’s downfall can be attributed to deployment. According to SB Nation’s Copper and Blue, Yakupov’s most common line-mates in Edmonton were:
- Sam Gagner (solid, middle-six forward)
- Derek Roy (3rd line center)
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1st line center on most teams)
- Mark Arcobello (inconsistent bottom six forward)
- Mark Letestu (defensively minded 4th line Center)
All of Gagner, Nugent-Hopkins, and Roy are solid play-making centers that have worked well with Yak. although, each centre had a revolving door of other wingers that have hurt both Yakupov and the centers themselves. Arcobello is an inconsistent scorer whom has solid shooting tendencies but is by no means a top-six player. Mark Letestu is an okay player, whom is most known for his defensive abilities, not exactly the type of player that you want to pair with a pure scorer.
A connection can also be made between Yakupov’s struggles and line mates, ice time, and production.
For example, the majority of Yakupov’s rookie season was spent with Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky. While averaging 14:34 of ice-time (middle-six comparable minutes), playing with a play-making center (Gagner) and an experienced scoring winger (Hemsky), Yakupov put up a career-high 17 goals and 31 points. A solid line that was able to produce offense like this was ideal for both a pure scorer (like Yakupov) and the Oilers.
An example of a non-ideal setup for such a scorer was playing with inconsistent, defensively minded players. Such a setup was used throughout Yakupov’s final season with the club, when Nail suited up alongside Zack Kassian and Mark Letestu. This deployment is clearly detrimental to an offensively minded scorer and was a baffling decision for the Oilers to make, seeing as how Yakupov had success with Connor MacDavid.
Can Yakupov actually Produce at a High Level?
Outside of his time with the Oilers, Yakupov (while averaging 10:47 minutes of ice time, 4th line comparable) produced 12 goals and 25 points in 98 games (with STL and COL). Needless to say, this production is abysmal. I’ll be the first to admit that Yakupov’s only saving grace here is strictly his lack of ice-time, with Yak only reaching 5 minutes of ice time for the Avs on some nights.
Yakupov has had a couple productive seasons with the Oilers. Unfortunately, he hasn’t had much luck outside of the Oilers organization, which seems like an oxymoron at this point.
Despite his disappointing production (which can once again be credited to deployment), Yakupov still clearly possesses a high level of scoring ability, which was something that Nail wasn’t afraid to show in the KHL this season. In 47 games with SKA St. Petersburg, Yakupov had 23 goals and 33 points. Surprisingly, Yakupov was able to achieve this production while averaging just 14:10 of ice time. (Once again, deployment is key)
St. Petersburg is considered a powerhouse in the KHL. It often is the go-to team for former NHL players (such as Ilya Kovalchuck, Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeny Dadonov). This makes distribution of players a complex and touchy science in that league. Despite Yakupov playing mainly 3rd line KHL minutes, production wise, he is similar to a 2nd line NHL player. Prorated to NHL numbers using NHLE it rounds out to roughly 42p per 82gp, which is an impressive feat.
Who Needs Nail Yakupov?
Yakupov is a perfect fit for many NHL teams. Being a relatively young, fast, offensively minded forward, Yakupov can be the missing piece in many teams’ top nine forward groups. Listed below are 5 teams that could use a Nail Yakupov in their lineup as soon as possible.
Arizona Coyotes (37-33-7, 81P in 77GP, 200 GF)
Currently sitting outside of the playoffs with 81 points and 5 games remaining, The Coyotes have made huge improvements over last season’s disappointment. They added scoring in Michael Grabner and Nick Schmaltz, making big impacts (when healthy). Despite these efforts, the team is 4th last in Goals For (GF). The Yotes’ top six forward group would most definitely welcome the addition of Nail Yakupov, whom could replace quite a few players (a-la Brad Richardson, Josh Archibald). Playing Yak with Derek Stepan and Alex Galchenyuk would be ideal, even trying Yak with Galch and Clayton Keller would be interesting.
Dallas Stars (41-31-6, 88P in 78GP, 198 GF)
Sitting on a 5 point-cushion over the Colorado Avalanche in the standings, the Stars have long over-achieved while lacking useful depth, a curse that often catches up with the Texan franchise come playoffs. Outside of the big-three of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alex Radulov, the Stars have little forward depth, with a 24 point deficit between Jamie Benn (52 points) and the next highest scoring forward (Radek Faksa, 28 points).
Now that’s horsesh*t.
Yakupov would be a welcome and much-needed addition to the teams’ mediocre forward core. Pairing Yak with the Stars’ most capable center (outside of Seguin) would be ideal, although the Stars aren’t likely to resign Jason Spezza. A nice alternative option would be actually signing known top 6 forwards, such as Matt Duchene.
Buffalo Sabres (31-36-10, 72P in 77GP, 211 GF)
Officially being eliminated from playoff contention last week, the Sabres’ season came to a unexplainably disappointing end. All is chaos once again in Buffalo. A far cry from the joyous gloating that took over the city following a 10-game winning streak in November. Despite valiant effort(s) to increase scoring through the acquisition of Connor Sheary and Jeff Skinner, the team still sits 6th last in GF. Yakupov would definitely strengthen Buffalo’s weak situation on the wings.
Edmonton Oilers (34-34-9, 77P in 77GP, 223 GF)
Nope. No. Never. Maybe? They’re always weak on the wings. No. Noooooooooooo. Nope. Never again. Please God nooooooooooooooooooooooo. This would be the funniest and probably worst option for Nail overall, so no. Seriously, no.
Carolina Hurricanes (42-28-7, 91P in 77GP, 228 GF)
Probably the most favorable option for Yakupov, the Hurricanes are turning almost all their attention towards acquiring scoring. Whether that’s been through drafting (Svechnikov), trading (V. Rask for Niederreiter), or signings (Williams). Yakupov could easily replace Michal Ferland (whom is dead set on leaving in free agency). Yak, if playing with either the perennially underrated Teuvo Teravainen or superstar Sebastian Aho, could easily score 20 goals and 40 points.
Despite being horribly mismanaged since his sophomore season, Nail Yakupov has shown that he is a capable offensive player. One that can and should be able to definitely play meaningful minutes at the NHL level. There will be many suitors if he decides to hit the FA market this summer. Teams would be incredibly wise to invest in the much maligned sniper.
Resources retrieved from NHL.com, en.khl.ru, eliteprospects.com, hockey-reference.com, @CompleteHkyNews on Twitter.com, ownthepuck.blogspot.com, coppernblue.com, frozen pool.dobbersports.com, and dailyfaceoff.com