Nail Yakupov has played well to start his tenure with the Blues. Ken Hitchcock has been easing him into the lineup, letting him learn the system, and so far it’s paying off for the former Oiler. Yakupov finished Thursday evening’s game with a goal, an assist, and the first star of the game. How did STL Today recap this?
Well, if that’s not an esteem boosting headline I don’t know what is. I’m not going to slam Jesus Ortiz on the headline - writers rarely write their own. The content of the article, however, is something that contradicts itself. To say that everyone gets a fresh start on opening night is true. It’ll be difficult for Yakupov to shake not living up to expectations in Edmonton. It’ll be even harder to shake those past problems if they’re brought up every time he sets foot on the ice.
Look at Jeff Gordon’s take on Yakupov’s arrival. I sincerely hope that Yakupov did not read it.
As it stands today, Nail Yakupov ranks among the worst first-overall draft picks in modern NHL history.
Several forwards have flopped. Patrik Stepan [sic] heads that list, since he never scored more than 14 goals in a season. Brian Lawton had a 20-goal season, at least, and goofy Alexandre Daigle once scored 26.
Among defensemen, poor Greg Joly went to the expansion Washington Capitals and posted a plus-minus of minus-114 in his first two seasons. Needless to say he never really recovered from that.
Can Yakupov, acquired by the Blues on Friday, recover from his struggles in Edmonton and avoid eternal hockey infamy? Can he re-establish his value in the walk year of his contract or is he destined to return to Russia as an NHL washout?
First off, if you’re going to talk about underperforming first overall picks, at least spell Patrik Stefan’s name correctly. Second off, the teams that those guys all went to were awful. Stefan was drafted by the expansion Atlanta Thrashers, who couldn’t develop players to save their lives (see: Lehtonen, Kari). Brian Lawton had 266 points in 483 NHL games. That’s not incredible, but it’s not awful. Alexandre Daigle was drafted by the expansion Ottawa Senators. Again, brand new team, brand new development program.
Did he under-achieve in Edmonton? Past his first season, absolutely. Was he also on a team that consistently showed itself to be inept and practically uninterested in improving as they tried to corral as many top draft picks as possible? Yes. Have the Oilers ever shown themselves to successfully manage young talent? They just traded away Taylor Hall, for God’s sake. Their team should be lightyears better, and are slightly improving, but they’ve never shown any interest in development. They’re fortunate that Connor McDavid was as close to perfect as you can get. He’s a difficult one to screw up.
Yakupov needed the development. He needed successful mentorship. He got neither of those in Edmonton; he’ll get both in spades in St. Louis. Lou Korac tweeted this after the game Thursday night. It’s a great look into Yakupov’s perspective.
Hopefully the Blues, especially Vladimir Tarasenko, can provide guidance to Yakupov and make him comfortable in a new city so he can get a fresh start. The fans have already been supportive. The season’s young - it’s two games in, and the third one is tonight - but maybe it’d be helpful for the local press to give him a chance.