Much has been made about the Edmonton Oilers‘ latest first-overall draft pick, Nail Yakupov. Some say he has once-in-a-generation talent as a sniper, others remain wary of whether or not his being Russian will somehow affect his attitude and the way he plays. Some moaned that he didn’t talk enough to the press during the World Junior Championship, while others continue to marvel and laugh at some of the things that take place on his Twitter feed (which can be pretty funny at times). But now that the season is about to start, we’re finally going to see what he can actually do in the NHL.
For a supposed sniper, the fact he didn’t score once during the WJC could be a cause for concern to some (and knowing how rabid Oilers fan are, I’m sure there are some who are already calling him a bum). But don’t forget that he chipped in nine assists, so it’s not as though he disappeared.
Add to this the fact that he has basically been on the go for over a year without a break. His 2011-2012 run with the OHL‘s Sarnia Sting included six playoff games, after that he basically spent the next five months constantly being tested mentally and physically as he prepared for the Draft and dealt with the aftermath of being the first pick. Then before going abroad to play during the lockout, he ended up on a weak Russian team in the WJC. Now you have to think that the guy is just plain exhausted by now.
So jumping right from all of this into an abbreviated NHL season, minus a preseason or any kind of significant training camp, should pose a problem for Yakupov, right? Actually it could very well be the opposite. When he comes to the Oilers, in spite of being the #1 overall pick last June, he will just be one of the guys. He won’t be expected to be Rick Nash during his Columbus Blue Jackets tenure where he was constantly the only threat defenses had to key in on.
Yakupov is coming to an Oilers team that is so deep that Yakupov will be on the second line instead of the first. Defenses will be desperately trying to keep an eye on everybody on the ice instead of just him, so there will be opportunities aplenty for Yakupov to wreak havoc on his opponents as a result. Coming to a team this loaded and finally being able to just get on the ice with his NHL team might be the balm he needs to relieve some of the pressure and fatigue he has been feeling.
My money is still on Justin Schultz to win the Calder Trophy this year, but Nail Yakupov isn’t going to have such a bad season himself, and neither should the Oilers.