Now that the Los Angeles Kings have been handed the Stanley Cup and the excessively long NHL playoffs are over we can finally look ahead to the most important date on the NHL calendar, the NHL Entry Draft. Sure the playoffs can be exciting at times and offers fans a chance to watch quality teams battle each other over the course of seven games for the right to move onto the next round, and then finally after two months of that a champion is crowned; but really, how does that compare to the drama and prestige of having the right to select the best 18 year old hockey player in the world?
So while other teams are busy trying to win hockey games the Edmonton Oilers have gone another route, choosing instead to focus on what what really matters: securing top picks and then Bam! Stanley Cup. I'm sure some you are saying to yourself "Couldn't any idiot can build a losing team, how hard can that really be?" Well let me tell you it's harder than it sounds and it takes a very special idiot. In fact the Oilers needed a little luck at the Draft Lottery back in April to secure the team's third consecutive first overall selection after improving to the leagues 29th best team this season.
In the end all of the effort was worth it and with the first overall selection in the SB Nation NHL Mock Draft the Edmonton Oilers are proud to select .....
..... from the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League, Nail Yakupov.
Yakupov will not address the Oilers biggest need heading into next season - shoring up a defence with holes so big you could drive a truck through them - but with the first overall pick the Oilers have no choice but to take the best player available and Yakupov is that guy. After scoring 101 points in his rookie season, and breaking the franchise's rookie points record set by Steven Stamkos, Yakupov was able to play in just 42 games in 2011/12 (the result of injuries and time away from the Sting when he was playing for Russia at the World Juniors) but still managed a slight bump in both points and goals per game. His offensive statistics are provided below courtesy of eliteprospects.com.
As the consensus number one in this year's draft Yakupov is an easy selection for the Oilers and will give the team another young, offensively talented player to go along with Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jordan Eberle as the team continues in their attempt to rebuild through the draft. It's clear from his offensive numbers that Yakupov can score but what makes him the clear cut number one according to Corey Pronman is that he's also an above-average skater with plus speed and tremendous agility.
He has the ability to push the tempo up the ice and keep defenders on their heels, but he's probably even more dangerous at a standstill with high-end agility, first step acceleration, and a real slippery aspect to his game. He has such a powerful stride that he can take a handful of strides and already have travelled half the distance of the ice. Yakupov is the kind of player who consistently keeps his feet moving and has a very desirable motor to his game that shines through on a regular basis either when he's jetting through open ice or when he's engaging along the physical areas. He plays with the energy and grit at times of a fourth line player, with the skill set of a top pick.
All signs point to a long and successful NHL career for Yakupov but there are of course a couple of question marks as well. The biggest of which is his size. At 5'11" Yakupov certainly isn't big by NHL standards, how will he handle himself against bigger competition in the NHL? Will he get worn down by the larger defencemen of the NHL? No one can say for sure right today, but the fact that he is physically engaging now is a good sign that he is comfortable with contact. And the success of recent small first overall selections like Patrick Kane and Stamkos should help ease any concerns about whether or not a sub six-foot player can excel in the NHL.
The "Fail for Nail" has allowed Oilers to acquire yet another very talented forward. In the near future the Oilers might find themselves in the enviable situation of having trouble finding a place to put all of these players.