If the Edmonton Oilers take the player deemed the best available by every recognized scouting outfit on the planet with the first pick at the NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh, they’ll be walking to the podium with Nail Yakupov’s name on a jersey, as they should. I know, this just in . . .
While there might be handful of dissenters among the people who actually assess talent for a living or a genius packing numbers that show the Oilers should pass on Yakupov because he scored an alarming number of his points in games where a suspiciously high percentage of the crowd was wearing long-sleeved shirts, that’s the overwhelming consensus.
And it’s a selection, not knowing or having seen the top-ranked prospects at the head of the 2012 draft class like Stu MacGregor and the Oilers scouting staff has, I can’t take issue with. I might have more difficulty if the Oilers opt for Everett defenseman Ryan Murray, as rumblings out of Pittsburgh lead us to believe they might, but, again, MacGregor, Bob Brown, Kent Hawley and Edmonton’s staff know Murray far better than I do, as well.
While I’m impressed with Yakupov’s Sarnia teammate Alex Galchenyuk and think he better fits the organization’s needs in terms of position, nothing trumps the need for a team that’s missed the playoffs six straight years than taking the BPA. Here and now, Yakupov is that player. It doesn’t hurt, in my estimation, he also has a swagger to him. This team could use some of that.
MacGregor didn’t go out of his way to sing the praises of Yakupov in the discussions we’ve had, but I believe he sees the dynamic winger as the BPA as well, regardless of all the talk about this selection being a far closer call than it was with Taylor Hall in 2010 or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011.
Blowing smoke, I say. All hail Nail.
HOW HE RATES
NHL Central Scouting: No. 1 among North American skaters
The Hockey News: No. 1
McKeen’s Hockey: No. 1
Red Line Report: No. 1
TSN: No. 1
THE SKINNY FROM CSS
In 2011-12, he recorded 69 points (31-38-69) in 42 games for Sarnia, leading the team with 12 power-play goals and a plus-15 rating in an injury-shortened season.
In 2010-11, he led his team and Ontario Hockey League rookies in scoring with 101 points (49-52-101) in 65 games. It was the most points by a first-year player since Patrick Kane had 145 points in 2006-07. His scoring also surpassed Steven Stamkos’ team records for goals (42) and points (92) by a Sarnia rookie. He was named the OHL Rookie of the Year and the Canadian Hockey League Rookie of the Year last season.
Yakupov represented Russia at the 2012 World Junior Championships. He tied for the tournament lead in assists with nine (0-9–9) helping Russia win silver — he recorded four assists in the semifinal against Canada.
WHAT THEY SAY
NHL Central Scouting’s Chris Edwards
“His first step and ability to control bouncing pucks, knock them down and make a play are the best of any of the guys in the draft, in my opinion.
“He really gets up to top speed very quickly and his hands are outstanding. Like Pavel Bure, Yakupov is dangerous every shift. He may not have been dominant on every shift like Bure was, but he created something every shift … you have to be aware where he is on the ice all the time.”
Scouting Report: “He’s a skilled and dynamic offensive talent. He’s got over-the-top confidence, there’s no doubt. As long as you can back it up.”
Projection: “It’s pretty safe to say he’s going to be a player who plays on your top two lines.”
Weaknesses: “He needs to learn the defensive side of the game and, like a lot of these young players, he needs to find consistency.”
NHL Comparable: “He’s probably a little bit like Valeri Kharlamov, for those who go back that far. As far as NHL players, people have said they see some Pavel Bure there.”
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.