I like Nail Yakupov.

With that being said, four years ago I was opposed to the Edmonton Oilers taking Yakupov with the first overall pick at the 2012 draft. With Eberle, Hall, and RNH already in the organization and little more than question marks on the back-end, I was of the mind that the Oilers should either trade down or take Ryan Murray to help build up the blue line.

Recent news from Mark Spector suggests that management, possibly due to ownership override, actually went against the majority of their scouting staff, who voted 9-2 in favour of Ryan Murray.

Now as disappointing as Yak has been in his still young career, Murray hasn’t been much better. He’s often injured, and when healthy, hasn’t exactly been dominant. Even still from a strictly team building perspective, Yakupov was the wrong pick. It’s an often assumed fact that at the draft you must take the best player available, which frankly doesn’t always work too well when picking first overall three years in a row.

If your franchise is blessed with another first overall pick, in a year where the consensus top player is of little use to your organization, then you should trade down and attempt to maximize your assets, especially in a draft so rich with top defensive talent in the top 10.

Considering this poor asset management, and the report from Spector, I’m not entirely convinced that Daryl Katz’s son isn’t the true mastermind behind this roster. Certainly this criticism is much easier to dish out with the benefit of hindsight, but would a fourth rounder, or a decent prospect, not be enough to entice the Oilers to move down four or five spots?

Regardless of how I felt at the draft, Yakupov won me over. Oh how refreshing it was to see a Oilers player that hadn’t had all personality conditioned out of him by an ideal of how hockey players “ought to act.” Perhaps it was a touch of xenophobia, or perhaps it was the opinion that Yakupov never earned his spot, but outside of his rookie year under Ralph Kruger, Nail was never given a fair shot.

A wonderful quote from one of the best Oilers bloggers out there Oilers Nerd Alert, sums up Yakupov’s situation well:

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He has produced with McDavid, he produced with Derek Roy, in his brief time with Nuge he’s produced, when he’s with Hall… he produces! Maybe he doesn’t produce at the level a first overall pick is expected to, but enough to deserve top 6 ice time.

On the other hand when he is saddled with Mark Letestu, he drowns. He is not the type of player like a Hall or McDavid, who can create offense all by himself. In fact there are very few of those players in the NHL. When he plays with less offensively inclined players, Yakupov often tries to do it all himself, rather than work with his linemates. No one seems to rag on Letestu for the lack of production, but his winger however, who is far less experienced is expected to tear it up, in a limited role, with limited line mates.

To take from a wiser man than myself, David Johnson from HockeyAnalysis.com, wrote here, under the ‘Usage’ subheading “By far the only usage statistic that really needs to be taken under significant consideration in player evaluation is quality of teammates.” Clearly there must be something to playing talented wingers, with Centres that can help rather than hurt them.

Further consider the work done by Lowetide, and Johnathan Willis with Oilers Nation, and the Cult of Hockey, on how Letestu and Yakupov don’t work well together. No matter how you slice it Letestu is bad for Yakupov.

Frequently, with regards to the Oilers, analysts will comment about the lack of ‘greasy goals,’ and that you can really only score so many ‘pretty’ goals. You will see no disagreements here about that fact. Which is why playing a guy like Maroon over Yak in the top 6 makes a whole lotta sense. Although Yak occasionally brings a real gritty style to the rink every couple of games, he’s not gonna play the same role as a Maroon.

Yakupov simply doesn’t fit well in this Oilers roster unless there is a change.

There are only three situations in which I can see the Oilers and Yakupov having a successful relationship. The first being if they trade Eberle for defensive help, and give Yakupov and honest 20+ game shot with McDavid to figure things out. The second is if the Oilers run McD-Drai-RNH, down the middle and play Yakupov on the third line with a respectable centre. And the third and final is if they run their big three centres in some form in the top 6 and bring in an honest to god LEGITIMATE third line centre such as Frans Nielsen, or Martin Hanzal, with Yakupov once again playing wing on the third line, at least this time with some skill.

The underlying assumption to all the above scenarios, is that the Oilers utilize Yakupov on the power play. He is most certainly not as polished, but his one timer has drawn Ovechkin/Stamkos comparisons in the past. What do the Oilers have to lose by using him in the same way as the other two? it’s not like their power play could get much worse.

Considering how coaches have used him in the past, each of those scenarios seems unlikely. So if Yakupov wants out, I’ve got no problem with that. He’s an incredibly talented young player, who’s had to endure constant turmoil and overhaul with the coaching staff, and a team that never seemed to have a fit for him in the first place.

His trade value is not what it once was, but hopefully the Oilers can swing a trade with Tampa for Drouin, or perhaps with Ottawa for Cody Ceci. The most desirable at this point would be the once rumoured trade to Minnesota for Spurgeon (If this trade actually happens, expect a post of me gushing of Jared Spurgeon).

Whether any of these teams would be willing to trade such players for the divisive Yakupov, is up in the air. However outside of potentially a trade with Tampa for the equally disgruntled Drouin, I’d wager Yakupov can still prove to be the main prize in any trade, if properly utilized.

I like Yakupov. I think he’s a great kid who wants nothing more than to be a star at the NHL level. He’s great in the community and with the fans, but if the Oilers have no interest in playing him in the top 6, then trading him is the only reasonable option.

Yakupov had a great game last night, playing with Hall and Draisaitl. He was the only goal scorer, and had several dangerous chances throughout. First and foremost Yak is a shooter, and not unlike Ovechkin, or Stamkos plays his best when playing alongside skilled players that can get him the puck. Hopefully he can find more of that in another city.