Nail Yakupov's production compared to recent No. 1 overall picks

USA TODAY Sports

Nail Yakupov's struggles have been a hot topic recently, but his production isn't that far off from recent No. 1 overall picks.

It's been a pretty terrible season to this point for the Edmonton Oilers, which is nothing out of the ordinary for a franchise that's been at the bottom of the NHL for the better part of the past seven years.

The defense is a mess, their best player -- Taylor Hall --  missed nearly a month due to injury, and they currently sit at the bottom of the Western Conference with 10 points through their first 19 games.

Another trip to the NHL draft lottery, where they've had the No. 1 overall pick in three of the past four seasons, seems inevitable at this point. But it's the struggles of their most recent No. 1 pick, Nail Yakupov,  that has been one of the biggest stories of the season in Edmonton.

Through 17 games this season Yakupov managed just four points (two goals, two assists), has been a healthy scratch twice, and has seen his name surface in trade rumors. Over the past four games that he has actually been in the lineup he's played less than 13 minutes in each one, including less than 12 minutes in each of the past three. It's to the point now that Yakupov's agent, Igor Larionov, is on his way to Edmonton to discuss his role with the club.

Larionov even said on Monday that Yakupov would be open to a trade if the Oilers are unhappy with him.

It should never come to that for Edmonton.

Even though Yakupov has had his share of struggles, he's far too talented to give up on at this point, and his struggles, if you want to call them that, aren't that different from any other young player at this point in their career. And that includes previous No. 1 overall picks.

Yakupov is currently playing in his second NHL season, but it's important to keep in mind that he hasn't even played a full season's worth of games as his his rookie year was a lockout shortened 48-game campaign. In terms of actual playing time in the NHL he is still going through what should be his rookie season and experiencing the same growing pains any other rookie has to go through.

As of Tuesday, Yakupov has appeared in 65 games and scored 19 goals to go with 16 assists. Decent numbers, but probably not what some fans or media would hope for from such an obscenely talented player who was taken No. 1 overall. That's because expectations (thanks in part to the combination of media hype machine and the ridiculous numbers put up by guys like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin in their debut seasons) are too often unrealistic and unreachable.

When a player is taken No. 1 overall and has such great potential we want to see instant results. It rarely works out that way.

Let's take a quick look at how the 15 forwards who were chosen No. 1 overall before Yakupov did in their first 65 games.

One thing stands out: Most No. 1 overall picks don't put up huge numbers right away, no matter how good they are or turn out to be.

Player Goals Assists Points Shots
Nail Yakupov 19 16 35 112
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 18 36 54 141
Taylor Hall 22 20 42 186
John Tavares 17 18 35 151
Steve Stamkos 14 19 33 140
Patrick Kane 16 39 55 155
Sidney Crosby 31 43 74 224
Alex Ovechkin 43 41 84 336
Ilya Kovalchuk 29 22 51 184
Patrik Stefan 5 20 25 111
Vincent Lecavalier 11 12 23 98
Joe Thornton 4 6 10 41
Alexandre Daigle 16 25 41 130
Eric Lindros 44 38 78 192
Owen Nolan 10 10 20 71

A few observations.

  • Again, most No. 1 overall picks don't really dominate right out of the gate unless your name is Crosby, Ovechkin or Lindros.
  • Outside of Patrik Stefan (taken ahead of both Henrik and Daniel Sedin in what was one of the worst draft classes in NHL history) and Alexandre Daigle all of these guys still developed into the type of star forward you don't trade away.
  • Even when it comes to the success of Crosby and Ovechkin you're not only talking about the two best players of their era, you're also talking about two rookies who broke into the NHL in 2005-06 when goal-scoring in the NHL was at its highest level since the fire wagon days of the '80s (OK, maybe not quite that high, but it was still a unique year with the way obstruction was enforced and power plays across the league skyrocketed). Crosby and Ovechkin are not only generational talents, they also happened to enter the league in a season that was the perfect storm for offense.
  • It's amazing how close Yakupov's production is compared to recent picks Tavares and Stamkos, two players who have developed into franchise-changing players and MVP caliber forwards.
  • Don't forget that Stamkos, like Yakupov, was also a healthy scratch in the early part of his career and had Barry Melrose, his coach through the first 16 games of his career, say that he wasn't ready for the NHL.
  • I can't even imagine what was being said about future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton when he had 10 points in his first 65 games.
Yakupov is far from a finished product at this point and there are still areas of his game that needed to be cleaned up, that much is obvious. But that is also normal for any player who just turned 20 and has yet to play even 70 games in the league. Whether or not he ever develops into the superstar the Oilers hoped he would be when they selected him in 2012 remains to be seen.

But it's entirely too soon to be overly concerned about his production when it's not that far off from what any other recent top pick has done in the early part of their career. As hard as it may be, a little patience is required.

As for the trade speculation, it would be pretty unheard of for the Oilers to make a deal at this point. Going back to 1963 only seven No. 1 overall draft picks were traded by the team that picked them before they played more than 200 games with the club. And that includes top picks Lindros and Bryan Berard, who were traded before they even played a single game with the club that picked them.

Lindros was traded from Quebec to Philadelphia in what would become one of the most famous trades in league history, while Berard was dealt (along with Martin Straka) from Ottawa to the New York Islanders for Wade Redden and Damien Rhodes after he informed the Senators he would not report to them.

When the St. Louis Blues traded defenseman Erik Johnson, the No. 1 overall pick in 2006, he had appeared in 203 games with the club.

Aside from the timing, it would also be foolish from a value standpoint and a team selling an asset at its lowest possible value.

The Oilers need more talented players, not fewer ones. They have a potential star on their roster and should be as patient as possible in seeing him develop.

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