Last year, some of our panelists took some flak for pushing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins behind some of the more established NHL talent. This year, same of our panelists are probably going to get some flak for putting Nail Yakupov ahead of some of the more established NHL talent. This last point is, to me, pretty exciting. The Oilers have the first overall pick from the 2012 entry draft, we've ranked him third in the organization among players under twenty-five, and their are people arguing that's too high! No matter what you think about the rebuild, that's a sure sign that this team has amassed some absolutely terrific young talent.
Previous Rank: N/A
I've got Yakupov in third, but there are a couple of dissenting voices on either side with Bruce and DB suggesting that there are a few players that belong ahead of him and Ben and Derek suggesting that he's behind just one player in the organization. They're making this call despite the fact that we have much more information about the NHL players than we do about Yakupov, despite the fact that Yakupov endured a knee injury (and later on in the year, he sustained a concussion) that negatively impacted his performance (and could have an impact on his future), and despite the fact some scouts were expressing some hesitation about Yakupov's ability to become a superstar as we approached the draft.
So how can you possibly justify having Yakupov ahead of a player like Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Taylor Hall? A lot depends on that question about injury. If you think that Yakupov's established level is close to his performance before being injured, his OHL performance compares favorably to anyone, and expecting a dynamic goal-scoring superstar seems reasonable. If you think that Yakupov's established level is close to his performance after being injured, his OHL performance last season is actually pretty disappointing for a first overall pick (note: it's still really good).
My feeling is that you need to acknowledge both the risk and the potential. I think there's a quite reasonable chance that Yakupov ends up as the best player on this team. There's also a chance that his career is impacted by injury from the start, and that he never attains superstar level performance. I think that most folks would agree with that.
As we move toward Yakupov's first NHL season (and let's be honest here, the Oilers aren't likely to send him back to the CHL), it will be very interesting to see what role he's given. How a player starts is very important at least in terms of public perception, and with the amount of competition for soft minutes at evens and power play time on this team up front, there's a chance that Yakupov's scoring totals will be underwhelming, especially if Ralph Krueger's primary mandate is winning games. I'm not saying that this is what I expect, but it will be very interesting to see what kind of reaction we see from the fanbase if Yakupov's rookie year looks more like Tyler Seguin's (minus the playoffs, this is the Oilers after all) than it does Taylor Hall's.