As you’ve more than likely already read online the Edmonton Oilers have loaned prospect Bogdan Yakimov to the KHL for the 2016-17 season. This move didn’t come without gripes from the organization and a move that all but seals another failed attempt by the Oilers to develop a Russian-born player.
Yakimov had an intriguing skill set. It’s very difficult to find a 6’5” 230-pound two-way center, especially one that has a natural hockey sense. The biggest knock against him was his lack of foot speed, however, he has a mature NHL ready frame.
He had a fairly impressive junior career that saw him twice represent Russia at the U-18 Ivan Hlinka tournament winning a bronze medal in 2011. He played much of his draft year in the Russian junior leagues scoring 22 points in 37 VHL games and 13 points in 11 MHL games. He was ranked 11th among European skaters in his draft year by Central Scouting but fell to the Oilers in the third round.
The following year Yakimov spent the year in the KHL and won a bronze medal at the WJC despite having a underwhelming performance with just two points in seven games. He’d come to North America as a 20-year-old where he played just one game for the Oilers and scored 28 points in 57 AHL games. Last year he’d score 15 points in 36 games.
This is where the rift set in. Yakimov believed he was being under utilized by the coaching staff and wasn’t put into a position to succeed. Although both sides tried to squash these claims publicly it was apparent there was, in fact, an issue when the Oilers loaned him to his KHL team where he’d play 11 games.
Yakimov has once again been loaned and this time, it’ll be for the year with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk.
The frustrating aspect from an organizational perspective can be summed up by comments made by Oilers head coach Todd McLellan who stressed that Yakimov going away to play in the KHL is a detriment to the organization because they will no longer get to oversee his development. If Yakimov stayed in the KHL the Oilers would have scouts and members in player development at every game aiding his growth as a player. By going to the KHL the ability to have a scout at each of his games isn’t as promising and it’s easier to see the prospect go astray in terms of development.
From a player perspective, Yakimov is on a two-way deal with the Oilers. His current contract is an entry-level contract (ELC) with waiver exemption, which from his perspective means if Edmonton wants to keep him in the AHL all year they have the ability to do so without losing him. His contract also only allows for bonuses of roughly $32 thousand. Being in the AHL Yakimov wouldn’t be making the $892 thousand he’s owed in actual NHL salary, instead, he’d be getting the AHL base of $70 thousand.
Related: Yakimov Contract (CapFriendly.com)
What is the incentive for him to stay when he can make hand over fist to play back in his hometown and come back a better player?
Currently, Yakimov has been passed over in the organization’s depth chart at center by Jujhar Khaira (may have a long-term career as a winger), Greg Chase and the newly acquired Drake Caggiula. With the fact the Oilers top three centers are locked between Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl that limits his role in the organization. Both Mark Letestu and Anton Lander are battling for the fourth-line center job, that puts Yakimov (at best) as the organization’s AHL third-line center.
The writing is on the wall when you really read into it and the Oilers history with Russian-born draft picks. Edmonton hasn’t had much success in recent years and Yakimov just adds to it.
Here’s a look at Edmonton’s history with drafting Russian’s since the 2000 NHL Draft:
From 2000-12: Russian Drafted Oilers Played Just Two NHL Games
2000 – F Alexei Mikhnov (1st round – 17th) – At 6’5” 230-pounds he was pegged to be a future top-six center. Remembering how bad Edmonton’s depth at center was during this time he was desperately needed to pan out.Mikhnov didn’t come over to North America until he was 25-years old in 2006-07. He didn’t finish out the year playing in just two NHL games and 27 in the AHL before returning to Russia. Hasn’t been back since but has 152 career points in the KHL in 331 games. One of the Oilers biggest draft busts all-time. Edmonton passed on Brooks Orpik, Alexander Frolov, Anton Volchenkov, Justin Williams and Niklas Kronwall to take Mikhnov.
2000 – D Alexander Lyubimov (3rd round – 83rd) – A defensive defenseman at 6’3” 220-pounds, Lyubimov came to North America in his 20-year-old season to play for the CHL Odessa Jackalopes. He scored 24 points in 56 games before returning to Russia. He mainly played in lower leagues (Russia-2 and Russia-3) before retiring at the end of the 2009-10.
2000 – F Evgeny Muratov (9th round – 274th) – A silver medalist at the 2000 WJC, Muratov led the tournament in goals with six and was named to the tournament all-star team. A smaller offensive forward at 5’9” 165-pounds he never came over to North America instead playing his career in the KHL before retiring in 2010-11. Between the KHL and Russian Superleague, he scored 224 points in 529 games.
2002 – D Ivan Koltsov (4th round – 106th) – Another 6’3”, near 200-pound defender, was a weird selection, to begin with as he wasn’t outstanding in any one area. The entire 4th round that year only seven players made it to the NHL. Others taken included defenseman Tom Gilbert who became an Oiler several years later. Koltsov never came to North America instead playing in lower leagues in Russia and Belarus including a four-year hiatus from the sport.
2003 – F Mikhail Zhukov (3rd round – 72nd) – An odd selection playing in the Allsvenskan (tier 2 in Sweden). Never came to North America but has had a modest amount of success in the KHL/Russian Superleague scoring 169 points in 508 games. He’s won an RSL Championship (2006), Continental Cup (2008) and Gagarin Cup (2009).
2004 – D Roman Teslyuk (2nd round – 44th) – Teslyuk actually broke the trend here joining the WHL Kamloops Blazers in his draft year and boosted his draft status. He played 244 WHL games before graduating to the ECHL where he played 24 games scoring six points. He left the following year and has played in lower leagues such as the Russia-2 and Kazakhstan leagues. Stands out on the list with the fact he was after all a second round pick. Edmonton passed on Nicklas Grossmann, Brandon Dubinsky, Alex Goligoski and David Krejci. Ouch!
Related: Lost Russians: Edmonton Oilers
2005 – F Vyacheslav Trukhno (4th round – 120th) – The best of this early bunch, Trukhno gave the biggest effort to stick it out in North America. A smaller skill forward who led his QMJHL team in scoring and was a member of the Russian U-18 team he seemed like a mid-round steal. Played his draft year here and the next seven seasons in North America. The troubles started once he turned pro. His offensive production never matured, nor did he pan out to be much more than a top-nine forward at the AHL level. After being re-assigned to the ECHL in 2010-11 he left to play in multiple leagues in Europe including the SHL and Allsvenskan. He’ll be playing next season for Karlskrona HK. Trukhno scored 89 points in 196 AHL games.
Related: Oilers Future Watch: Trukhno
Related: Trukhno Returning Back To Russia
2006-10: Bumagin Was Lone Pick, Refused to Come to North America
2006 – F Alexander Bumagin (6th round – 170th) – Another smaller skill forward, had a breakout year scoring 21 points in 40 games playing in Russia during his draft year. Bumagin also played on the Russian U-18 team that year. He regressed the following year despite having a strong showing at the WJC winning a silver medal and scoring eight points in six games.
Never came to North America and has been a KHL mainstay, he’ll play for Lada Togliatti next season. He’s been a mediocre point producer in the KHL with 141 points in 355 games.
Related: Oilers 2006 Draft In Review
Since 2010 Just Three Russian’s Under Contract with Oilers
2012 – F Nail Yakupov (1st round – 1st) – He’s won a silver and bronze medal at the WJC and had a spectacular junior career in the OHL. The jury is still out on Yakupov who has been underutilized in Edmonton thus far in his career. When he has had the opportunity to produce he’s been inconsistent at best. Since being drafted he has yet to hit the 20 goal or 40 point marks in his career. Yakupov has scored 50 goals and 111 points in 252 NHL games. RFA next summer with arbitration rights
2012 – F Daniil Zharkov (3rd round – 91st) – An unsigned 6’4” 200-pound winger, Zharkov had an impressive draft year. He came over to North America when he was 17 years old playing in the USHL and then moving onto play with the OHL Belleville Bulls scoring 36 points in 50 games. He also played at the U-18 tournament. He’d eventually win a bronze medal the following year where he had a horrendous showing at the WJC. Since then he’s been mediocre at best and mainly used as depth talent in the KHL. He did come to camp last year but missed the year due to injury. He’s committed to KHL Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod this coming season. Never signed an ELC.
2013 – C Bogdan Yakimov (3rd round – 83rd) – Made the Oilers out of training camp two years ago but has spent the last two years in the AHL scoring 43 points in 93 games. Consistency and injuries derailed his year and he requested to be loaned back to his KHL team where he had just four points in 11 games. The Oilers have officially loaned him for the 2016-17 season as stated and his future with the Oilers is written on the wall. Loaned to KHL Club
2013 – F Anton Slepyshev (3rd round – 88th) – Skill forward with some interesting intangibles, statistically speaking the numbers aren’t overly impressive but he’s captained two Russian teams at the U-18 and WJC level. He’s won two bronze medals at those tournaments. He signed an ELC with the Oilers last summer and made the Oilers out of training camp thanks to a shoulder injury to Jordan Eberle. After recording just one assist in 11 games he was sent down to the AHL where he scored 21 points in 49 games. Injuries cut his year short and he’ll be on the early short list for call-ups this season. He’ll have a top six role with Bakersfield. Two years left on ELC, no arbitration rights.
2015 – D Ziyat Paigin (7th round – 209th) – At 6’6” 200-pounds he’s a monstrous presence on the ice. Early reports suggest he’s got good hockey sense and impressive mobility for a player of his size. He’s a project defenseman that could become a decent NHL defender in the future. Won a silver at the WJC two years ago. He’ll return to Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL next season. Edmonton must be hoping to get an ELC signed next summer.
Related: Paigin Is On The Rise
Looking back at the Oilers history the biggest piece of why this team has struggled for the between part of three decades is because this team has been completely inept at the draft table. This isn’t an “I hate the Russians” tirade, but more of a fact that Edmonton hasn’t been able to find useful players at all. Draft an entire team of Russian’s if you must but learn to identify the right ones.
There were years like when they took Mikhnov when they could’ve had a shutdown top-four defender in Volchenkov a few picks later. They take a defenseman with limited upside in Tesyluk when Grossmann and Goligoski are still available. They were high on Gilbert one year but took Koltsov. Drafting isn’t an exact science, the Oilers are just on the wrong end of things far too many times.
The future isn’t as bleak on the Russian front. Yakupov may never become “The Next Pavel Bure” but he could still become a serviceable top-six forward if he’s put into the right situation and utilized properly for the duration of the season. That is yet to happen. Slepyshev may very well still develop into a top nine forward that could be a very good hand on the powerplay in years to come. Then there is a monstrous defender in Paigin who might become a serviceable defenseman.
It’s not all doom and gloom on the Russian front right now but the history in Edmonton hasn’t been pretty thus far.