Monday, 27 June 2016

Edmonton's Nail Yakupov is the Right Fit at the Right Price for Tampa Bay

One of the bigger storylines to come out of this year's draft weekend was all the fuss surrounding the Edmonton Oilers.  It seemed that any time a rumor was brought up, the Oilers found themselves right in the middle of it.  Ryan Nugent-Hopkins?  On his way out.  Taylor Hall?  We'll miss you.  Jordan Eberle?  You can kiss him goodbye.  Leon Draisaitl?  He'll look great in a Montreal jersey.  Aside from Connor McDavid, almost every Oiler of note had his name thrown around the rumor mill in one form or another.

Of course, with all those big names spamming the headlines, some of the smaller-ticket items found themselves slightly off the radar; that included Nail Yakupov, who reportedly was available for... basically nothing:

While the draft is now over and those picks have been made, the Nail Yakupov sweepstakes are likely ongoing.  With the addition of Jesse Puljujarvi at the draft, the Oilers once again find themselves with a bevy of forward talent and a dearth of wealth on the blue line heading into the offseason.  Something has got to give, right?  It seems that Yakupov, in desperate need of a fresh start, could be one of the players who is shipped out of Alberta's capital region.  If he is indeed available, the Tampa Bay Lightning should absolutely be giving Peter Chiarelli a call.

Ryan Wilson over at HockeyBuzz wrote a great blog highlighting why he believes the Pittsburgh Penguins are an ideal fit for Yakupov.  Rather than rewrite everything he said there while replacing "Penguins" with "Lightning," I've linked it here so you can give it a read.  

Beyond Wilson's points, I think the major fit for the Lightning is that he has scoring potential.  Oilers fans will point to the stark reality that he hasn't potted the puck with tremendous regularity since debuting, but the fact remains that he did score 0.59 goals per 60 minutes of five-on-five ice last season according to  That was good enough for sixth overall amongst Edmonton players who suited up for more than 400 five-on-five minutes; he would have ranked eighth on the Lightning in that same category, ahead of guys like Ryan Callahan, Alex Killorn, Jonathan Marchessault, and Valtteri Filppula, among others.

And, the best part?  Yakupov did all that with Mark Letestu as his most common centerman.  Replace Letestu with a Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov, or Jonathan Drouin (should the team move him to center) and it's hard to imagine that those totals will go anywhere but up.  I'd even go as far to say that there's a semi-decent chance that the Lightning would present Yakupov with a more comfortable and productive environment in general, given that they've had an enormous amount of success integrating and empowering young Russian players as key cogs in their machine.

Of course, that's not to say that a Yakupov trade is without risk.  In short, his possession stats aren't all that strong, he has disappeared for stretches throughout his pro career, and there are big concerns about his defensive game as a whole.  If that doesn't sound like the makings of a one-way ticket to Cooper's popcorn squad, what does?  Still, though, with a lack of cap space available, the fact remains that the Lightning need cheap options to help replace the offensive contributions that are likely to disappear with the pending departure of Steven Stamkos.  Yakupov can absolutely help to fill that void in a risk-free, affordable way.  No, he's not going to replace Stamkos, but he absolutely has the skills to be a small part of the committee that does.

With all this in mind, it's time that the Lightning start considering their options.  Nail Yakupov presents them with an opportunity to add a complementary piece for what should be a relatively low cost.  Yakupov is young.  He has scoring potential.  He probably isn't as bad as the Oilers have made him look.  Those are reasons for optimism.  If the price is right, Steve Yzerman should definitely consider pulling the trigger.

As always, thanks for reading.

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