Few questions matter more to the current edition of the Edmonton Oilers than the one regarding Nail Yakupov’s future. Coming off a terrible year, is he a draft bust in the making or is he a player with extraordinary potential who just had things go sideways?
What does history suggest?
To try and answer that question, I looked back at 20-year-old forwards over the lockout era (1994-95 to present) who posted similar scoring numbers to those run up by Yakupov this season. I then further refined the list by shots-per-game to eliminate players who fired the puck much more (e.g. Phil Kessel) or much less (e.g. Henrik Sedin) than Yakupov.
For interest’s sake, I also included other players the same age as Yakupov who had similar results this season, and to make comparison either projected all totals over a full 82-game season.
The Best Case Scenario
That’s a pretty nice list of players. Benn, Hossa, Marleau, Sedin, Perry and Iginla highlight an impressive group of forwards who were able to recover from a less-than-impressive 20-year-old campaign.
Yakupov is toward the bottom of the list, but it’s worth noting his shooting percentage – at 9.0 percent one of the worst totals among these forwards. I think we can safely call Yakupov a high-end shooter based simply on watching the games; if we were to credit him with (for example) Perry’s shooting percentage he would have scored at a 21-goal pace and be sitting near the top of this list.
It isn’t unrealistic to think he could develop into a brilliant offensive player, given some of the names on this list.
The Worst Case Scenario
Hey, look, it’s Alexandre Daigle! And Kris Beech, who was once traded for Jaromir Jagr! Plus, Albany Devils sniper Mattias Tedenby!
It would be unfair to say that Yakupov is tracking like a draft bust; just as with the best case list these names were cherry-picked to provide the worst possible contrast. But it wouldn’t be wrong to say that’s not not tracking like a draft bust.
At one end of the scale, we know that future Hart Trophy winners had 20-year-old seasons in which they scored as poorly as Yakupov. We also know that some of the worst draft busts in history had 20-year-old seasons in which they scored as poorly as Yakupov.
It’s up to the player and the coaches to find a way to arrive at the former rather than the latter outcome, to channel Yakupov’s raw talent into a form where he can be a difference-maker for the team.
In a lot of ways, I think that’s one of the main points history is going to judge Dallas Eakins on – if he loses Yakupov (though to be honest, most of Yakupov’s problems predate Eakins’ arrival), if he can’t find a player in there, it’s going to be a massive blow to the team and an indictment of his abilities as a teachingcoach. On the other hand, if Yakupov emerges as a major asset for the Oilers, that will say something significant, too.
At this point it could go either way.