It’s the news that we’ve all kinda seen coming for a while now, but former first overall pick, Nail Yakupov, has signed a one-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL after spending the last six seasons with three different NHL teams.
Even though Yakupov heading back to Russia to play in the KHL is something that most of us have expected for a while now, it still doesn’t the news any better for fans of the guy. Sure, you can call him a bust, many already have, and you can say that he never had the talent required to live up to the billing of being a first overall pick, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still feel bummed out for a guy that was both a great person and filled with a joy for the game when he first got here. Remember the guy that was happily bouncing around at practice and riding his stick in the intrasquad games? I certainly do.
Unfortunately, Yak’s NHL journey has come to a close (for now) after six seasons and 350 games played between three different teams. His most productive season being his lockout-shortened rookie campaign where he scored 17 goals and 14 assists for 31 points in 48 games. After that, things just kinda fell off the rails for Yak as he could never seem to find his footing anywhere else that he played, be it here or elsewhere. Some folks say that Yak could never commit to a 200-foot game while others say that he just didn’t have the hockey IQ required to play at the NHL level, but no matter how you slice it, his NHL career was not befitting of a first-overall pick. In fact, his 350 games make him the shortest tenured first-overall pick in NHL history, behind guys like Patrik Stefan and Alexandre Daigle. That’s not exactly great company.
But maybe the journey isn’t necessarily over? Perhaps signing a one-year deal in the KHL means that Yakupov would like to make an NHL return someday but that’s really just me guessing. Unfortunately, being a great person with a love for the game and a bounce in your step doesn’t exactly ensure NHL success, but that’s where he’s at right now and the news is disappointing. Despite not being an Oiler anymore, I was always pulling for Yak and hoping that he would find a way to figure things out. Then again, maybe he was just never able to get that joy for playing back after losing his confidence and being bounced around in various roles? But you never know, maybe this time in the KHL will help him figure things out or maybe I’m just being an optimist about a guy that I always had a lot of time for.
Regardless of what happens in the future, I want to wish Yak all the best as he heads back overseas to continue his career. Who knows what the future will hold for him, but I can’t help but have a soft spot in my heart for the guy that was so good in our community despite not having the results on the ice.
Remembering the better times:
YAKUPOV’S NHL CAREER
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Source: KHL, Official Twitter Account, 7/3/2018 – 5:56 am MST