While the focus in Edmonton appears to be on the sudden maybe-sweepstakes for Montreal Canadiens defenceman PK Subban, gossip has floated around regarding former first overall pick Nail Yakupov and his future in the city.
Dreger: “The #Oilers would love to move Nail Yakupov. The problem that they have is they can’t get much more than a third-round draft pick.”
— Chris Nichols (@NicholsOnHockey) June 23, 2016
In a city that has recently only been successful in harvesting draft picks, Yakupov is perhaps the least successful of those selections. Despite being considered by many to be the best player available in the 2012 Entry Draft, the Russian winger has largely been a disappointment, putting up 111 points in 252 games with the Oilers over four seasons.
To his defence, Yakupov has played second, third, and even fourth fiddle on the Oilers in the past few years, getting third-line usage for much of his tenure. But he hasn’t done much to earn that those minutes, dragging down the possession numbers of his linemates in every season he’s played and letting his rate production slip.
Yakupov did seem to find chemistry with Connor McDavid this season. Granted, McDavid is a presumed generational talent and already one of the world’s best players as a teenaged rookie, so playing better with a player of his calibre should be a given. However, McDavid’s GF% and CF% were also better with Yakupov than without him, giving credence to a theory many have had since Yakupov’s junior game; that he’s a triggerman who needs a playmaker.
While speculation remains that the Leafs are going to be armed to the teeth with one, if not two shooting centres next season, they do have two creative puck-dispersal players coming up in William Nylander and Mitch Marner. Yakupov might be able to find success on their opposite wing, though there’s not much of a guarantee.
As for the price, a third round pick would be easy for the Leafs to cough up, given the eleven draft selections they have over the next two days. The Leafs could also reach into their cupboard of secondary prospects or roster players as well; players like Josh Leivo or Stuart Percy could intrigue the Oilers staff, as could a soon-to-be-expiring winger replacement like Milan Michalek or Colin Greening. The latter would be a much preferred situation for the Leafs, seeing as it would cancel out Yakupov’s $2.5 million cap hit for next year.
If I were a betting man, however, I’d suggest that the Oilers go the distance with the Habs and close out this Subban trade with Yakupov in the package. Acquiring a former first overall pick that has played well with Alex Galchenyuk would help sell the deal to the fanbase; something that will likely be necessary with the already existing outrage that the Habs are even entertaining shopping their star.