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Colorado Avalanche Top 25 Under 25, #17: Nail Yakupov: The Wild Card

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Yak is not a 1st overall pick anymore, but the signs are pointing towards a resurgance

Vancouver Canucks v Edmonton Oilers
APRIL 6, 2016: Edmonton Oilers forward Nail Yakupov greets fans during the closing ceremonies at Rexall Place
Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Mile High Hockey writing staff. Our writers, plus a special vote from the readers, ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2017 in the Colorado Avalanche organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked.

I don’t think it would be fair to talk about Nail Yakupov without talking about the Edmonton Oilers and how that franchise affected Yakupov.

The Management

The Edmonton Oilers are were a terrible team for a lot of years. They had already drafted first-overall for the past two seasons (Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) and they were about to pick first-overall again. In fact, they picked in the top-7 in all of the four seasons Yakupov was on the team.

There was a story that came out after the 2012 draft that the Oilers scouting and player development teams came to a 9-2 voting concensus to pick Ryan Murray first-overall. This decision was vetoed by the four-headed monster of then general manager Steve Tambellini, president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe, soon-to-be GM Craig MacTavish, and owner(!) Daryl Katz. It became clear that the Oilers of that era were not an organization with all their ducks in a row.

The mindset of management during Yakupov’s tenure was to start from nothing and just keep adding whatever pieces they stumble upon, namely top-10 picks (and most of the time only top-10 picks). The problem there is when the constant losing and general hopeless overwhelms the young players. It happened with Yakupov, Justin Schultz, Magnus Paajarvi, Devan Dubnyk, and Sam Gagner just to name a few. It took Justin Schultz and Dubnyk a few years after their time in Edmonton before they were able to unlock their true potential. And if you ask Magnus Paajarvi, it was a miracle they did at all.

The Coaching

2012-13: After firing Head Coach Ton Renney after only two seasons, the Oilers hired Ralph Kruger. He was fired after 48 games, citing a team with terrible defensive deficiencies. GM Steve Tambellini was also fired.

2013-15: The Oilers were successfully able to pry Dallas Eakins out of Toronto. Eakins coached the Marlies, he must know how to deal with young, star players. He was fired after 113 games. Management citing a lack of winning this time. GM Craig MacTavish put some of the blame on himself for the roster not being good enough. He and interim head coach Todd Nelson were fired 4 months later.

2015-16: Edmonton finally looks like they have some sense of stability. A new leadership group of GM Peter Chiarelli, head coach Tood McLellan, and saviour Connor McDavid have all arrived. Alas, it was too little too late for poor Nail. Despite a great start to the season, Yakupov suffered a tough injury, derailing his season. That summer he was traded for a 3rd round pick in 2017 and ECHLer Zach Pochiro.

After four seasons in Edmonton, Nail Yakupov had suffered through four Coaches, three General Managers, as well as 76 (lock-out pro-rated), 67, 62, 70 point seasons by the team.

In Edmonton, Yakupov never got a chance to develop around a good defensive system, get used to having quality linemates for more than half a season, and ever just feel comfortable in the NHL. When your team sucks for as long as that, it’s hard to find any confidence, let alone learn how to win.

Nail Yakupov

Season Age Team GP G A PTS PIM Shots S% Shot Attempts For (CF) Shot Attempts Against (CA) CF% Total Player Shot Attempts Average TOI
Season Age Team GP G A PTS PIM Shots S% Shot Attempts For (CF) Shot Attempts Against (CA) CF% Total Player Shot Attempts Average TOI
2012-13 19 EDM 48 17 14 31 24 81 21 451 601 42.9 162 14:34
2013-14 20 EDM 63 11 13 24 36 122 9 652 798 45 217 14:19
2014-15 21 EDM 81 14 19 33 18 191 7.3 963 1099 46.7 337 15:27
2015-16 22 EDM 60 8 15 23 24 127 6.3 696 707 49.6 220 14:13
2016-17 23 STL 40 3 6 9 14 35 8.6 357 339 51.3 68 10:39

One thing that can be said about Yakupov is that he has never given up. He never left for the KHL, he never barred himself from the media and fans, and he always did what his coach asked him to do. Impressively, after all those years in Edmonton, Yakupov is still the same fun, young man he’s always been.

Yak has all the raw abilities to be a great offensive player. His defense has come a long way in the past year. In St. Louis, playing 4th line minutes, he was able to have a positive shot attempt differential for the first time in his career. I strongly believe that Yakupov can have a renaissance chapter to his career in the NHL. It seems to have started in St. Louis, let’s hope it can continue here in Colorado.