Yak is a bust and they should have taken Murray
Yakupov was the unanimous top prospect (ranked 1st by Central scouting, ISS, The Hockey News, everyone’s favourite Craig Button, etc.). When picking 1st, you simply don’t draft for need, you draft the best player available. In his first season in Edmonton, he showed why he was ranked 1st by most by leading rookies in goals and tied for the lead in points with Calder winner Jonathan Huberdeau. Yakupov and Huberdeau would go onto similar results the following season, too.
Both fans and Yakupov himself expected some substantial progression, but expectations were less than met. Yakcity followed up his strong rookie campaign with an underwhelming 24P and an ugly -33 in 63 games with a concussion and an ankle injury keeping him from a number of contests. Yakupov’s game didn’t mesh well with rookie coach Dallas Eakins leading to a small drop in ice time, misuse on the powerplay, and even a couple healthy scratches. Being healthy scratched for a game in Toronto surely had it circling major news circles in no time.
Yak was quickly labelled as a first overall bust by some of the less than wise fans of the game. Some would consider labelling a freshly 20-year-old sophomore, with just over 100 games under his belt, a bust to be premature and others well, are as said-less than wise. Aside from some less than expected production, why do they call him a bust? Well, it’s because of a combination of things.
First off, he’s Russian. People claim that he has a bad attitude despite it being very clear to oiler fans and the coaching staff that he was one of the best attitudes on the team, the guy loves the game and just wants to get better and better. It seems being Russian alone equates to having a bad attitude.
Second, his plus minus was very bad. Yes, he competed with Edler and Ovey for the green jacket, but realize that he held one of the worst even strength on-ice SV%s in the league at .882. Before you blame his defensive ability on that number, recall that his fellow countryman and 3-time Selke winner Datsyuk was right by him with an .888. On-ice SV% is something that often fluctuates year-to-year, Yak’s was .918 last season.
This comes from a Coppernblue blog on the subject of Yak’s +-: “He's been on the ice for 424 shots on net against this year, and 50 goals against. If his goalies saved 92.0% of shots”(around league average) “ instead of 88.2%, he'd have only been on the ice for 34 goals against, or 16 less. Also, his on-ice shooting percentage is only 7.5%, no doubt impacted by his time on the 3rd and 4th lines. The Oilers best players flirt with 10% on-ice shooting, but let's assume he could have done 8.7% playing only with top six players. His on-ice goals for would have increased from 26 to 30. So in a fair world, Yakupov's plus-minus could have very easily been -4 this year at evens, instead of -24. Since he doesn't kill penalties, including the minuses he gets from being on the PP (which has been catastrophically bad at giving up short handed chances this year) is unfair.” While he’s definitely not a 2-way force, neither is a guy like Eberle, but bad luck amplified this for Yak to a great extent.
Fans of other teams claim that Edmonton really should have drafted for need and taken Columbus’s shiny new defenseman Ryan Murray instead. Murray had a strong rookie season where he saw himself play the 4th most minutes among a relatively strong defence in Columbus. Fans saw his success in CBJ and jumped to believing he’d be doing great in EDM too had they drafted him and that is simply unfair. Murray got to play alongside Wisniewski, who had a very strong season and is better than anything EDM would have for him to be paired with. As we saw in EDM the past 2 seasons with youngster Justin Schultz, the best he’d have to work with would have been Nick Schultz or Andrew Ference, 2 guys a number of tiers under Wisniewski. He would have been thrown to the wolves in Edmonton and would have looked awful. Wisniewski and Murray made a fairly strong pair in CBJ, but without Wisniewski, Murray’s corsi% drops from a 54% to a 44.3%. EDM simply does not have a Dman that could have held Murray up that well.
Murray may have been bottom pairing quality, being complimented by a stud Dman in Wiz. He looks great being carried by a high end Dman. He would’ve looked like Justin Schultz in EDM, and some fans of the oilers and of other teams are already souring on him. 5 years from now, Murray may be Alex Pietrangelo but it is far too premature to say that Edmonton made the wrong choice. Yakupov is still a very good bet to bounce back to what we expected after his strong rookie season. I’ll bet the farm that Yak becomes a 30+ goal scoring winger someday, hopefully in Edmonton. Murray wouldn’t have helped EDM for years.
Thanks for reading.