‘Fail for Nail’ rang through streets of Edmonton during the 2011-12 NHL season as the Edmonton Oilers, for the sixth straight year, slotted as lottery hopefuls rather than playoff contenders. The lottery balls fell their way, and a sure-fire Russian superstar playing for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) was ready to be selected to an organization known for once housing dynasties during the 1980s. Nail Yakupov, the third of three consecutive first-round picks for the team, would be joining budding stars Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jordan Eberle, forming the next generation of Oilers offence. Fast-forward four years, and Yakupov set his sails for St. Louis, netting a return symbolic of the winger’s fall from grace. Luckily, the Oilers used assets from the Yakupov trade to draft a future All-Star, Stuart Skinner.
Yakupov’s Tenure With The Oilers
Yakupov’s time with the Oilers began with promise. In his rookie season, he scored 17 goals and 14 assists for 31 points in 48 games. The .64 point-per-game (P/G) pace during his rookie season would be the highest pace of his career, as his second-best P/G came in the 2014-15 season, where it was .41. That season, he scored a career-high 33 points (14-19-33), but in 81 games. The Oilers did not have a potent offensive punch during his four years with the organization, but his inability to produce with Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, Eberle, or even a rookie Connor McDavid confused fans about why his production and development stagnated following his first year.
Throughout Yakupov’s career as an Oiler, he only scored 50 goals and 61 assists for 111 points in 252 games. In those games, he had a plus/minus of minus-88 and 102 penalty minutes. He only eclipsed the 30-point mark twice in four years, once in his rookie season. It was evident to everyone that a change of scenery was needed. NHL fans were hoping a trade would be the jolt Yakupov needed to reignite the scoring prowess he showed in his junior years. With his trade value plummeting following three-straight abysmal years, a bidder stepped up to acquire the forward.
The Yakupov Trade Tree
On Oct. 7, 2016, the Oilers traded Yakupov to the St. Louis Blues for a conditional third-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and prospect Zach Pochiro. The condition of the draft pick was that if Yakupov scored 15 goals in the 2016-17 season, it would become a second-round pick in the 2018 Draft. He did not score 15 goals, nulling the conditions on the pick. Pochiro played the 2016-17 season between the Oilers’ American Hockey League (AHL) and ECHL affiliates, playing 46 games between the two leagues. At the end of the season, the Oilers did not retain his rights, making him a free agent. The only significant piece of this trade was the aforementioned 2017 third-round pick. From the Blues’ perspective, taking a flyer on a recent former first-overall pick for a middling prospect and a third-round pick was not much to give up, even if it did not work out on their end.
Latest News & Highlights
The pick the Blues gave up ended up being the 82nd selection in the 2017 NHL Draft; however, the Oilers did not draft at that spot. On Day 2 of the 2017 NHL Draft, with pick 82 in hand, the Oilers opted to move up, aggressively targeting a goaltender they liked in the third round. They packaged picks 82 and 126 for pick 78 from the Arizona Coyotes, a hefty price to move up four spots in Round 3. With picks 82 and 126, the Coyotes selected Cameron Crotty and Michael Karow. Karow would go unsigned by the Coyotes, while Crotty signed an entry-level contract on April 9, 2020. He is still with the Coyotes organization, playing on their AHL affiliate, the Tuscon Roadrunners. Crotty, like Karow, has yet to play a game in the NHL. With the 78th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, a pick acquired using assets from trading Yakupov, the Oilers picked from the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League, Stuart Skinner.
Stuart Skinner, NHL All-Star
Circa 2016, when the Yakupov trade happened, the Oilers getting an NHL calibre player from a third-round draft pick they received would have been perceived as a win. Come 2023, the Oilers turned the trade into an NHL All-Star level player. Skinner became the Oilers’ starter following Jack Campbell’s struggles to begin 2022-23. In 50 games this season, he recorded 29 wins, 14 losses, and five overtime/shootout losses, posting a 2.75 goals-against average (GAA) and a .913 save percentage (SV%). These totals earned him his first All-Star nod at the 2023 NHL All-Star Game in Florida.
Skinner’s play during the 2023 NHL Playoffs did not resemble that of an All-Star; however, the Calder Trophy finalist is still young and has time to improve his consistency. During the postseason, he had a 3.68 GAA and a .883 SV%, not great numbers from an otherwise great goalie. Year by year, Oilers fans should expect improvement from their goaltender. At the bare minimum, even if Skinner does not obtain All-Star status again, he should still develop into a consistent starting netminder.
The Oilers managed to salvage a failed first-overall pick in Yakupov by selecting their goaltender of the future following a string of trades involving picks and the forward. History does not look fondly on the top-five picks from the 2012 NHL Draft class. With all the hype surrounding Yakupov, his inability to perform in the NHL remains as shocking as it is saddening. He ended up finishing his NHL career with the Colorado Avalanche before signing in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), where he remains. As for Skinner, despite a disappointing playoff performance, he should solve the Oilers’ goaltending woes during the McDavid era.