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.
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.