There's no denying that Nail Yakupov has a pile of untapped potential. TJ, our Oilers fan on The Hockey Show, has always maintained that the Oilers were using Yakupov wrong in their system and that he had produced fairly well when teamed with offensively-minded players. Yakupov's drawback, however, was that the defensive side of the game never really seemed to interest him, and this is a large reason why he was used in the bottom-six in order to reduce his ice time both in the offensive and defensive zones. Had the Oilers listened to TJ or The Hockey Show even once prior to the trade, they may be reaping some rewards for the former first-overall pick.
Instead, Yakupov will go to St. Louis and get a chance to play alongside some solid offensive players. While head coach Ken Hitchcock will still demand defensive responsibility - even moreso that Yakupov saw in the always-competitive Central Division - Yakupov might find himself a little more leeway if he scores a few goals for St. Louis. Vladimir Tarasenko had some of the same defensive concerns when he joined the Blues, and he's turned into one of the best goal scorers in the game. While I doubt that Yakupov will become the next Tarasenko in St. Louis, getting anything more than the 11 goals he's averaged over the last three seasons is better than what Edmonton's failed attempts got out of him.
What gets harder to quantify is that Nail Yakupov was a factor in this trade as well. Edmonton has long preached better defensive responsibilities for their club, and they began to build towards that goal with some of their signings last season and carried it forward with their free agent activity this season. While I understand that Yakupov may not have been happy with his situation in Edmonton, he often looked disinterested and unmotivated at times. Statistically, his numbers have declined in all four years he was in Edmonton and, while some will say that's a reflection of his linemates, a good leader and player helps to elevate his linemates' play as well. Yakupov never once did this, and that's entirely on him when it comes to his play.
Yakupov won't get a first-line setting in St. Louis, but he'll be given every opportunity to earn a spot on the second- and third-lines. He needs to show Hitchcock and his staff that he has the ability to work hard at the very least as Hitchcock rewards hard work. He needs to show an ability to backcheck as well as he skates up the ice. He needs to prove that he's not afraid to take a hit to make a play. And he has to be able to contribute by bringing energy, speed, and a few goals to the ice. If he can earn Hitchcock's trust by incorporating all this into his efforts in St. Louis, he'll be a regular player who will compete with the likes of Schwartz, Jaskin, and former Oiler Magnus Paajarvi for a top-six winger slot.
If you're an Oiler fan, though, you want to cheer for Yakupov's success with the Blues. Yes, that seems wrong to suggest after seeing him leave through four frustrating seasons, but doing so will benefit you. The conditional draft pick that the Blues traded for Yakupov is a third-round pick in 2017, but if Yakupov scores 15 goals next season with the Blues the pick becomes a second-round pick in 2018. In other words, if Yakupov has an Oilers-like season, you're holding another third-round pick. Hope for an un-Oilers-like season!
The other piece of the trade coming back is an interesting, if not curious, piece. The Blues sent prospect Zach Pochiro back to the Oilers as well. Pochiro is a right shooting centerman who was drafted 112th-overall in 2013. The former Prince George Cougars centerman has played 61 ECHL games with Kalamazoo, Alaska, and Quad City while suiting up for a single game with the Chicago Wolves. In 44 games with the ECHL Mallards last season, he posted 9 goals and 17 assists. In other words, he might play in Bakersfield at some point.
You might be chuckling at the return for Yakupov, but it was established at the deadline last season that the value for Yakupov was a third-round pick. Edmonton had orchestrated a deal that would have sent Yakupov to New Jersey last season for Eric Gelinas before the Devils accepted a deal from Colorado for a third-round pick. Therefore, Yakupov is worth a third-rounder.
The fact that his stock fell from being a first-overall pick to being footnote on an off-season's worth of deals is troubling when you consider that the Oilers have now dealt Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov - two first-overall picks - for Adam Larsson, Zach Pochiro, and a third-round pick. It has always been my thought that general managers are hired to improve their teams, yet it seems that the two major moves that Chiarelli has made this off-season have significantly worsened the team's outlook. He traded his leading scorer for a defenceman who still appears to be finding his legs in the NHL, and followed that trade by dealing an unhappy Russian for what amounts to an alright pick and a career minor-league player. I'm not sure that either trade has improved the Oilers at all unless Chiarelli is planning another five year rebuild starting in two years.
I have a feeling that Yakupov will become a very serviceable player in St. Louis. It won't happen overnight, but I'm guessing that we'll see his game evolve under Ken Hitchcock and Mike Yeo. The Oilers will draft someone else next season or the season after who will most likely become another piece of a trade under Peter Chiarelli.
Yakety-yak, Nail. Don't look back.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!