YAKUPOV, MURRAY OR . . ?

Robin Brownlee
May 14 2012 12:15PM

Will the Edmonton Oilers select dynamic Sarnia Sting forward Nail Yakupov with the first pick in at the NHL Entry Draft in June or will they lean toward addressing organizational need by opting for Everett Silvertips defenseman Ryan Murray, ranked No. 2 by Central Scouting?

If Edmonton’s chief scout Stu MacGregor has an answer to that question, he declined to pass it on to me today – I’ve been asking for a peek at the player ranking list he and his staff of amateur scouts compile annually for about a decade now without any success – as he prepares to attend the NHL combine, which starts in Toronto May 28.

A lot of fans and hockey people think taking Yakupov, the consensus No. 1 pick, with the Oilers third consecutive first overall pick is a no-brainer because he’s considered the best player available. Ken Campbell of the Globe and Mail makes that case here.

With the Oilers already stocked at forward with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, others are singing the praises of Murray, seen by many as a sure bet for the next 15 years as a top-pairing NHL blueliner. Mike Morreale of NHL.com writes about Murray here.

So, BPA or organizational need? While MacGregor wouldn’t reveal which way he and his staff are leaning as they prepare to interview Yakupov, Murray and 81 other prospects in Hogtown, he did offer his evaluation of both when I caught up with him today.

WHICH ONE?

“We’re still working through that process,” MacGregor said when I asked him if there’s a clear-cut No. 1 on Edmonton’s draft list. “We haven’t really got to that point yet. I’m going to say it’s between a group of guys.”

Really? A group of guys? Yakupov, Murray and . . . Alex Galchenyuk . . . Morgan Rielly . . . Griffin Reinhart? Or is it just that you won’t tell me?

“That’s right,” MacGregor said. “But I think (GM) Steve Tambellini was pretty clear that, you know, maybe we do have to make an organizational decision . . .”

So, with ambiguity duly delivered, I’m not going to put words in MacGregor’s mouth. Instead, here’s what he said about Yakupov and Murray:

ON YAKUPOV

“He’s one of those electrifying offensive players,” MacGregor said. “He’s got skill. He’s got the intensity to try to be an offensive factor each shift. I think he needs to get stronger and fill out physically to be able to do that at the NHL level, but he’s got the potential to be a high-end offensive player.”

I asked MacGregor if comparisons to former Soviet star Valeri Kharlamov – an old-school parallel that’s repeatedly been drawn by Bob Stauffer of 630 CHED – are warranted. Kharlamov was killed in a car accident in 1981 at age 33. Kharlamov is nothing more than a YouTube clip for fans under 40, but he was special.

“It’s big thing to put on a kid, but he’s like Kharlamov in lots of ways,” said MacGregor. “That’s going way, way back and I don’t know if people even remember him . . . how fast he was, how darting he was, how he always seemed to get the puck in the key areas. That probably is a very good comparison.”

ON MURRAY

“Ryan Murray is a very good young player and a good person,” MacGregor said. “He’s a great skater. He’s mobile, quick, fast and positionally, he’s very sound. He’s a solid defender and a very good transitional puck-mover.

“He’s smart off the offensive blue line. He’s a solid package as a player. What he’s showing with the men (at the World Championships) is he can think with them and play with them. I’m sure he’s a first-pairing guy, yes.

“I think he has enough offense. He missed three months with his injury and he played one game before the World Junior camp. I think he’ll be a player who can play a lot of minutes, play in key situations offensively and defensively and play a long time.”

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#51 speeds
May 14 2012, 09:25PM
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Belly wrote:

We have a lot of young talent bursting below the NHL as well as in the NHL. Why not move some of it for the second pick as well and include our first next year? They then can acquire yaks and his centermen, or Murray and yaks, or Murray and galenchyuk. I think we could possibly persuade Columbus to do this considering they could have the possibility of having two top 5 picks next year.

One of the arguments against that type of move relates to the depth of the respective drafts. It's early, but it sounds like the top end of the 2013 draft is expected to be substantially stronger than than the top end of next year's draft (once past Yakupov).

Even if you think EDM will jump up to the 7th pick in next year's draft, it's not unimaginable that who ever you get at 7 next year is a better prospect than anyone, outside Yakupov, in the 2012 draft.

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#52 Oil Bombs
May 14 2012, 09:56PM
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Pick Yakupov.

Defense is coachable, whereas offense is a gift only some players posses.

Just ask Lou Lamoriella.

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#53 Sean
May 14 2012, 11:24PM
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Murray is no Neidermeyer. more like: would you rather have Kharlomov or Larry Murphy? no contest.

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#54 Maverick
May 14 2012, 11:44PM
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I think the real issue everyone has, is that no one really has any faith in Tambellini being able to adjust this roster with trades. The easiest route to take for our dear old GM is to have Stu call out a defenseman. Problem solved, top 2 defenseman. Tambellini didn't have to lift a finger.

Pinning all the hopes on a 18 year old defenseman to lead the Oilers out of the NHL bottom teams wilderness. Too bad real impact won't be felt for 5 years, by that time all the other 'young herd' of defenseman will be making their mark and the depth at forward behind Hall, RNH and Eberle will be??? Tobias Rieder? Pitlick? who else, no one.

Pretty sad state of affairs with the Oilers if they are truly pinning their hopes on a young 18 year old kid on defense. Too bad the non emotional, small size up front roster with duplicate skills still exists.

Pick Yakupov or Galchenyuk. Trade the duplicated small forwards in a package for a young NHL established defenseman. Or at least another 1st round to get a defenseman. But for goodness sake don't walk away from the draft with just Ryan Murray - looks way more like a young Eric Brewer than Scott Neidermayer to me.

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#55 Digger
May 14 2012, 11:44PM
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@speeds

I can understand this line of thinking, but I think we have to be careful...all too often fans look into the future and think it's going to be something outstanding or even special, whether it be draft years or UFA crops or your own team's youngsters, only to find as time marches that the reality was something else altogether.

You see it all the time in draft years, people look at some 16 yr old wonderkids and project that their draft will be superior to the current year. Then those 16 yrs turn 17, and with the increased scrutiny and pressure the warts begin to show and all of a sudden that super duper draft year turns into another one of those "merely OK" crops...but just you wait, next year's class is going to be AWESOME! ;)

I'm not saying it's always true, but in my experience it turns out that way more often than not.

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#56 Oilcruzer
May 14 2012, 11:48PM
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Tired of people saying you don't win drafting wingers. Using that logic,... Mistakes include Gordie Howe, Guy Lafleur, and others who didnt rely on an all world centre to excel.

Jordan Eberle must be a bad choice too?

Trade the first with Columbus. Howson gets first overall and he sells tickets. He can't sell them on Murray. Might keep Nash too

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#57 Dave Lumley
May 14 2012, 11:49PM
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Robin, When talking to Stu next time or any other scout can you ask if Yakupov was eligble in last years draft where would he have slotted in? Would he have been a toss up with RNH or third behind Landeskog?

Comparing him to Murray, Grigorenko or others is hard to get a tangeble idea how good he is or isn't.

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#58 speeds
May 15 2012, 12:28AM
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Digger wrote:

I can understand this line of thinking, but I think we have to be careful...all too often fans look into the future and think it's going to be something outstanding or even special, whether it be draft years or UFA crops or your own team's youngsters, only to find as time marches that the reality was something else altogether.

You see it all the time in draft years, people look at some 16 yr old wonderkids and project that their draft will be superior to the current year. Then those 16 yrs turn 17, and with the increased scrutiny and pressure the warts begin to show and all of a sudden that super duper draft year turns into another one of those "merely OK" crops...but just you wait, next year's class is going to be AWESOME! ;)

I'm not saying it's always true, but in my experience it turns out that way more often than not.

There is truth to that, it's valuable advice and I think everyone that follows the draft has to kind of fight that tendency to be optimistic a year or two out from the draft. And as you note, those are just projections for a year out, things can and do change, and not always for the better. But we're not necessarily talking about only projection with these players - the production is already very good, even from this pre-draft year and ignoring any potential growth next year.

Shinkaruk scored 49 goals this year in the WHL, was 11th in scoring with 91 points, ahead of any 2012 eligible F in the WHL. Monahan had 78 points, MacKinnon 78 as well. Pulock scored as much as the highly ranked D from the WHL this season, some pretty big names in Murray, Dumba, Reinhart.

I'm not saying that it's a guarantee the draft will look so strong 12 months from now, in fact as you suggest it's probably more likely that it won't, but there's enough there to wonder if trading your pick away in 2013 is such a good idea, depending what else you'd have to add to the package to get another top 5 pick. EDM's finished last, last, and second last the past 3 seasons, to just assume they are definitely going to massively improve this offseason might also fall under the impatient heading - it's unimaginable that EDM could take Yakupov this year, finish 5th or 6th last next season and still get a better D than any of the D available this draft.

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#59 Jake
May 15 2012, 02:22AM
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You wanna talking about an organizational need that most, including our team needs? (other than Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Vancouver, Boston, n New York) SECONDARY SCORING!!!

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#60 Walter Sobchak
May 15 2012, 08:48AM
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@ Reg Dunlop

Teams are more willing to give up a top defenseman more then an elite scorer. Pronger comes to mind as does Niedermayer.

If your argument is drafting Murray over Yakupov then you also should know that Murray won’t be an elite defenseman, good yes elite no.

If Murray was in last years draft he would have ranked somewhere in the 20’s, he’s nowhere in the same category as a Hedman or Larrson. Yakupov projects by his numbers to be as good as Hall possible even a better scorer.

You also keep using the KHL as an argument but it's a week argument, there is no evidence Yakupov will leave, actually the opposite.

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#61 Reg Dunlop
May 15 2012, 09:38AM
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@ Wes Mantooth

Actually, I don't argue that the KHL is a threat to steal Russian players. I just repeated what I heard on last nights CBC broadcast which might make it more likely that the KHL can lure homegrown talent back, maybe not. My argument has always been that Russian players are more likely to give 100% while representing their country at Olympics or WHC,less likely their NHL team during the playoffs.

I agree with you that Murray may only be a solid NHLer, not elite offensively. Still a good thing.

Acquiring Pronger for not much was a rare opportunity for cap reasons and maybe other unknown reasons. Don't count on it happening again. Getting a young, elite D talent may well cost alot ie Hall for OEL.

I might be wrong about Yak, if the oil select him I pray that I am. But history shows that the oil have no intention of taking a Russian.

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#62 RexLibris
May 15 2012, 10:18AM
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@Dave Lumley

Not to step on RB's toes here, but after having read all of Yakupov's online scouting reports and comparing them to Landeskog I think, had he been eligible last season, the top three would have been Landeskog, RNH and Yakupov based on three completely different skill sets and body types.

Yakupov has more explosive and dynamic skill than either of the other two, RNH has the highest level of vision and intelligence as it applies to the game, while Landeskog has the most imposing frame and qualities of leadership and scoring that are difficult to find.

Yakupov might have slipped to fourth or even fifth last season but only because the Oilers and Panthers both wanted centers while New Jersey may have still coveted a defenseman and the Avalanche seemed enamoured with Landeskog's frame and character going into the draft. It doesn't mean that would have been the fifth best option though.

@Wes Mantooth and Reg Dunlop

I heard the same story about the KHL and the cap amnesty. I wouldn't let it deter the Oilers from drafting Yakupov though. I think we need to accept that if the Oilers draft Yakupov he may become to Edmonton what Kessel was to the Bruins. A top scoring talent that may need to be traded away over contractual issues in the end. With any luck his return could be as big a boon to the Oilers as Kessel's was to the Bruins.

In short, let his next team worry about Yakupov and the KHL. For the first three to five years of his NHL career I think we can safely assume his scoring talents will be ours to enjoy should the Oilers decide on him.

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#63 Maverick
May 15 2012, 12:16PM
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TSN's Craig Button has his Top 60 rankings out.... Ryan Murray way down on the list. NOT saying Button knows all but it shows how wide open this draft is this year. After Yakupov its anyone game lots of d-man to choose from. Interesting.....

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#64 OutDoorRink
May 16 2012, 12:11AM
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"Pinning all the hopes on a 18 year old defenseman to lead the Oilers out of the NHL bottom teams wilderness."

That's a pretty lame analysis. I don't think that anyone in the Oilers organization is pinning anything on Murray. They're simply making a draft pick and looking at what the team needs. Is there something wrong with considering a player who many scouts are calling a cornerstone d-man?

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