When the 2016-17 season began, the Blues had 12 former first round picks on their roster. This total is second only to the Washington Capitals’ 14. The newest of those is former Edmonton Oilers first rounder Nail Yakupov, whom the Oilers selected first overall in 2012. Yakupov was traded to the Blues after four, mostly disappointing seasons in Edmonton, where he tallied just 52 goals in 258 games. Some of his shortcomings can probably be attributed to the team he played for. Supporters will say that Edmonton didn’t do a good job developing him and that the team has a poor track record for handling young talent. Whether that is true or not, so far, the fresh start in St. Louis is going well for Yakupov.
Yakupov So Far
In a 3-2 win over Minnesota, Yakupov had a goal and an assist and he gave Oiler fans a taste of what they could be missing, scoring the Blues lone goal in a 3-1 loss in his first game against Edmonton since the trade. The big question now is whether or not Yakupov can be successful over the long-term in St. Louis. When looking deeper than his overall goals and assists, the answer would appear to be yes, for a couple reasons.
First, when you look at Yakupov compared to his draft peers, he is above average in several ways. He regularly gets good scoring chances, he is a strong forechecker and he has a penchant for entering the offensive zone with the puck on his stick, instead of dumping and chasing, which leads to better scoring opportunities for him. In other words, despite his numbers not being where you might expect them to be given his draft status, his game still translates well to the NHL.
Additionally, despite his draft status, he is not expected to be a savior in St. Louis, or even one of their top offensive threats. The Blues have a long list of good scorers such as Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko, who lead a young core of studs. This allows Yakupov to take advantage of having a fresh start to his career, where he can work to enhance his offensive abilities and improve a glaring weakness in his game — defense and moving the puck. He does rate below average, when compared to his draft peers in terms of taking the puck away from opposing players and he is known as a subpar passer.
What the Blues See
From the Blues perspective, regardless of some of Yakupov’s past failings and despite some outsiders being very critical of the move to acquire him, they are leaving his past where it belongs — behind him and them and they are focusing on what they believe he can develop into. The biggest key, however, to Yakupov developing into the solid player the Blues believe he
can be, is going to be his attitude. Despite the constant pressure in Edmonton and the end result of being labelled a draft bust, Yakupov says he has no ill-will towards the team or its fans. In fact, he was looking forward to seeing former teammates and playing in front of the Edmonton crowd when the Blues visited just a month after he was traded.
If he can stay positive, learn from Ken Hitchcock and the accomplished forwards on the roster, the Blues could lay the foundation they need to unearth the talent that allowed Yakupov to tally 101 points in the 2010-11 Ontario Hockey League season and they may get a huge return on the minor investment they spent to acquire him.