Recent reports indicate the relationship between Nail Yakupov and the Edmonton Oilers might finally be coming to an end after the 22-year-old winger requested a trade.
His agent, Igor Larionov, said Yakupov needs a “fresh start” and that it is time “to move on.”
The Oilers made Yakupov the first overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft and have yet to see the talent he possesses turn into results on the ice. This season, he has regressed and is having his worst season as a pro with just six goals and 19 assists in 56 games. That is hardly the kind of production you expect from a former No. 1 pick, especially one who possesses Yakupov’s talent.
A huge knock on Yakupov has always seemed to be his hockey IQ. He struggles to play hockey away from the puck and constantly finds himself out of position on both offense and defense. He is playing under his fourth head coach since joining the Oilers, so yet another system and its nuances might be an issue for him. Certain players need a comfort level and Yakupov has never seemed comfortable.
There is no doubt that the talent is there. Every once in a while, you see it shine through. However, it is not anywhere near consistent enough to garner major minutes every night. He just doesn’t do anything particularly well right now and the Oilers seem to be growing impatient.
Problem No. 1 for the Oilers is finding a trade partner. Yakupov will have one year and $2.5 million left on his deal, so that shouldn’t be an obstacle. The issue is what kind of value do the Oilers think he has? No team would surrender a first-rounder for him. Maybe a disappointing prospect for a disappointing prospect kind of deal can get done, but that would depend on how other general managers view Yakupov, and his stock is way down right now across the league.
Yakupov could very well be coming up on his last chance to stay in the NHL. He will need to show at least some progress soon, whether it be with the Oilers or another team, beginning next season. He will have to dedicate himself completely to hockey. Talent will only take you so far in this game. He will need to put in the work and learn how to play at the NHL level, something he should have been doing all along.