There’s always going to be that one team, that one coach, that one general manager who thinks they will be the ones able to rehabilitate the once-promising-now-on-the-skids player around. When you’re a former first overall pick, there is always one more team willing to take a chance on you, even if your career to this point has been a disaster.
In the case of Nail Yakupov, the Colorado Avalanche is that team. On the Fourth of July, the Avs signed the former No. 1 pick of the 2012 NHL draft to a one-year, $875,000, one-way contract.
Can the Avs be the team that does what the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues couldn’t, namely, get Yakupov to play anywhere near his potential? Maybe it’s just a fantasy. After all, the Blues wouldn’t even give Yakupov a qualifying offer to retain his services, choosing just to let him walk for nothing rather than try to qualify him and then try to get something back for him.
But there is always that one more team/coach/GM that thinks they’ll be able to reform the problem child.
“Nail is a young, skilled winger who will add depth to our lineup,” Avs GM Joe Sakic said in a team release. “We look forward to seeing him at training camp.”
Not exactly stirring words to announce the import of a guy who was pronounced the best available prospect available to the world just five years ago. But at this stage, Yakupov may be fortunate just to have found another NHL taker, before slinking back to Russia and the KHL.
The truth is, Yakupov can do a lot of nice things with a hockey puck on his stick. The problem thus far in his career has been: He just can’t seem to do it nearly enough on a consistent basis when the puck is dropped and the clock starts ticking in an actual, you know, game.
The Blues, who gave up prospect Zach Pochiro and a conditional third-round pick to get Yakupov from the Oilers last year, got three goals and nine points in 40 games from Yakupov in return. The Blues, who advanced to the second round of the playoffs, didn’t use him once in the postseason.
Former NHL 400-goal scorer Ray Ferraro, now an analyst with TSN and NBC, gave BSNDenver this assessment of Yakupov’s game:
“He’s a hard worker, nobody has anything bad they say about him. But I have described him as he plays like he’s being chased by bees…not sure he is very fast; He’s quick in spots…a shooter not a playmaker.”
Yakupov has, indeed, drawn good notices for his likability as a teammate and he seems to play hard. He isn’t afraid of taking the body. He scored 17 goals as a rookie with Edmonton in 2012-13. But the consensus is that he was rushed into the NHL far too quickly, developed some bad habits and had his development curtailed by a revolving door of coaches and GMs in Edmonton.
As someone who saw Yakupov play a lot in Edmonton told BSN, who asked to remain anonymous: “What has to happen is a major deconstruction of his game. Break him down, simplify things. He’s hard to play with offensively because he’s not much of a give and go guy.”
Can Jared Bednar be the coach to turn his game around? Well, he didn’t have a lot of luck doing that with another Russian player drafted in the first round in 2012, Mikhail Grigorenko.
At least it can be said of the Avs and Sakic in this case: The Avs didn’t risk a lot with the signing of Yakupov. They gave up no personnel to get him, and gave him quite a salary haircut from the $2.5 million he made last year with the Blues.
He’s still only 23 years old, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound right winger. True, his career trajectory has gone down so far, so fast that some have already labeled him the biggest bust of a No. 1 pick in recent NHL history.
But there’s always someone who thinks they can rehabilitate the supposed beyond-redemption hard-luck case.