Going into the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, I never liked the idea of the Edmonton Oilers using their first pick on Nail Yakupov, but I don’t own the team. I wasn’t sold on them spending their third straight first overall pick on Ryan Murray either.
Jump ahead a decade and the frenetic forward some fans dubbed Yak City has taken up residence in the KHL after 350 NHL games with the Oilers, St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche. While he wasn’t a total bust, Yakupov never managed to do enough to hang his hat in any of those cities and call one of them home. 
Enter Murray, who after being selected second overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets when the Oilers took Yakupov, showed up in Edmonton on a one-year deal for $750,000 Sept. 2 after playing 432 games with the Jackets, New Jersey Devils and Colorado. Like Yakupov, Murray hasn’t been a bust, but he hasn’t been the kind of impact player that some GM’s thought he might become 10 years ago.
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That doesn’t mean Murray, who turns 29 later this month, doesn’t have a chance to be a difference-maker on the blueline of an Oilers team that is much more of a Stanley Cup contender today than in 2012-13, when Ralph Krueger was coach and the Oilers players were Taylor Hall. Sam Gagner and Jordan Eberle. Murray has a chance to fit in rather nicely, actually.

TIME FLIES

Jun 26, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ryan Murray (28) celebrates with the Stanley Cup trophy after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning during game six of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Murray, a native of Regina who spent his entire WHL career with the Everett Silvertips, arrives in Edmonton on a much different path than he would have travelled had he been selected by the Oilers in 2012. Murray is being slotted in and paid as a depth guy now – he’ll play in the third pairing or be the seventh guy in the press box who can be summoned as a change-up.
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I don’t know for sure if it was the Oilers’ scouting staff, GM Steve Tambellini or owner Daryl Katz who wanted Yakupov in 2012, but it’s obvious GM Ken Holland thinks he’s worth a look-see now. In the context of adding depth to an area of the team that needs some, it’s an acquisition that makes sense to me. A smart bet.
“It’s kind of funny how things worked out,” Murray said. “When people bring it up it almost feels like a lifetime ago. It’s kind of funny and kind of cool and I’m excited to go there. It’s close to home and they have a great team, it’s a team I grew up with and was always watching. I’ve kind of played far away from home my whole career so it will be fun to play a little closer. Some guys play their whole career without getting that opportunity.”
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It’s not like Murray is a 30-something guy on his last legs. Even with youngsters like Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg on the rise, there’s room for a steady veteran who knows his way around the rink. There is opportunity here to play and to win if Murray can stay healthy, which has been an issue throughout his career.

THE BOTTOM LINE

“I’ve done a lot of training this summer, getting back to really lifting and getting in the gym, trying to create the best chance I can to be healthy and be a good player for this group,” said Murray, who injured his hand against the Oilers in late March and didn’t play as the Avs went on to hoist the Stanley Cup. “Hopefully, I still have something to give here.
“I just want to come in and do my job and give the team a chance to win. You don’t want to look at it as, ‘Where am I going to fit?’ You just play your play game and do your thing. I want to be the best player I can and the best person in the locker room I can.”
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Previously by Robin Brownlee