The Edmonton Oilers have traded former first-overall draft pick Nail Yakupov to the St. Louis Blues. The 23-year-old forward’s name has been discussed in trade rumors for years, but the speculation really picked up as of late with the Chicago Blackhawks looking like the favorites to land him.The St. Louis Blues ultimately swept in and nabbed Yakupov from their division rivals in one of the biggest twists of the offseason.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) October 7, 2016
In return for Yakupov, the Oilers received forward Zach Pochiro and a conditional pick, per the Blues official website. The Oilers will receive a second round pick in 2018 if Yakupov scores 15 goals this season. If he doesn’t they will receive a third-round pick in 2017, per Nick Kypreos.
Yakupov was taken with the first overall draft pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft after two sensational seasons with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL. In his first season in Edmonton, the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Yakupov scored 17 goals and 31 points in 48 games. Despite that impressive rookie year, Yakupov failed to make the final cut for the Calder Trophy, the award given annually to the NHL’s best rookie.
Unfortunately for the Russian forward, his impressive rookie season has been the lone bright spot of his career so far. In the following three seasons, Yakupov has failed to record anything more than 14 goals, and 33 points in a year. In a combined 204 games, Yakupov has scored a total of 33 goals and 80 points. While those numbers aren’t necessarily the worst for an NHL forward, they certainly don’t reflect the player that Edmonton drafted first overall.
Why Even Consider Yakupov?
For the St. Louis Blues, a team loaded with offensive talent up front, the acquisition of Yakupov looks like a simple case of buying an asset when it’s at its lowest value and hoping it pays dividends. There’s clear potential in Yakupov, but the expectation and fit in an Oilers jersey was just never met in his four years. Still, at just 23-years-old, Yakupov is still developing as an NHL forward.
The St. Louis Blues have their core. Between Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo, Alexander Steen, and others, the system is already in place. Yakupov is now leaving a situation where the pressure was always on him, to a situation where he can potentially thrive due to less responsibility. Similarly, Doug Armstrong, the general manager of the Blues, is very well aware of the fact that he and his team didn’t draft Yakupov. The pressure for Yakupov paying off isn’t as high for him as it was for Edmonton. Despite Chiarelli not drafting Yakupov, the fans and media in Edmonton would have never been able to get the bad taste in out of their mouth that was Yakupov.
Kris Russell to the Oilers
According to Elliotte Friedman, trading Yakupov may have been a precursor to the Oilers signing free agent defenseman Kris Russell. After entering the offseason as one of the defensemen projected to be signed among the first group of NHL free agents, Russell failed to catch on with an NHL club. Now, less than one week away from the start of the NHL regular season, it appears as though Russell has finally found his match with the Oilers.
Per Friedman, the deal will be a one-year contract worth approximately $3.1 million. It may not be announced until tomorrow, as Friedman reports, but it looks as though the deal is done.
In 573 career NHL games, Russell has scored 38 goals and 177 points. The former third-round draft pick is certainly more of a defensive-minded player than an offensive player, as evidenced by his astounding blocked shots numbers throughout his career. Despite this fact, however, those interested in analytics have deemed Russell as more of a liability, than an asset.
Despite this, the Oilers are certainly looking for an improvement on defense from previous seasons, and signing Russell for one year looks like a risk-free option for Edmonton. In fact, there has been a trend recently in the NHL that has seen many players get signed to one-year deals and traded away by the trade deadline. Russell was traded from the Calgary Flames to the Dallas Stars at last year’s trade deadline, so he’s certainly no stranger to the potential of a trade if the Oilers aren’t in contention at that time.
A busy night in Edmonton resulting in the end of the Nail Yakupov era proves that NHL teams are always ready to throw fans a curveball.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for six years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.