Does Nail Yakupov Make Sense for the Penguins? – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Does Nail Yakupov Make Sense for the Penguins?

Note: A couple of hours after I posted this article, Yakupov signed a one-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche for $875,000. Talk about timing!

Now that the first hectic days of free-agent season have passed, we’ve settled into the dog days of summer, when activity on the hockey front is scarce as a snowball floating down the Mon.

Penguins GM Jim Rutherford suggested as much. Although we’re rumored to be in the hunt for Colorado forward Matt Duchene—an impact player who could fill the team’s gaping void at No. 3 center—JR doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to pull the trigger.

16 March 2015: Edmonton Oilers Right Wing Nail Yakupov (10) [7209] celebrates after making an assist on a goal by Left Wing Benoit Pouliot (67) [4961] against the Toronto Maple Leafs during NHL action at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.16 March 2015: during NHL action at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

“I think it’s important now that we don’t panic and go after somebody just to say we got a center,” Rutherford said. “We’ll move on one when we’re comfortable with somebody that we like. It could be in the next day. It could take us a couple of months. It could take us early in the season before it happens.”

While he’s weighing his options over a Fourth of July hot dog, there’s another player JR might want to consider. One who’s pedigree initially matched, if not surpassed, Duchene’s.

For those unfamiliar with Nail Yakupov, he was selected No. 1 overall by Edmonton in the 2012 Entry Draft following a brilliant junior career with the Sarnia Sting. According to scouting reports, the dark-haired kid from the tongue-twisting hometown of Nizhnekamsk, Russia, was a can’t-miss combo of speed, sniping abilities, puck skills and hockey sense.

At first, Yakupov lived up to the considerable hype. Skating in all 48 games during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, he led all NHL rookies with 17 goals—a tidy 29-goal pace over a full season.

Then the wheels inexorably fell off the wagon. Yakupov sagged to 11 goals during an injury-plagued 2013-14 campaign, 14 the next season and eight in ’15-16. The drop-off prompted the unthinkable—a trade to St. Louis on the eve of the 2016-17 season.

It was hardly a perfect fit. For the free-wheeling forward, skating for notoriously structured Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was akin to being sentenced to a Siberian gulag in the dead of winter. Tallying a paltry three goals in 40 games, Yakupov submitted to season-ending knee surgery in April.

Now he sits where nobody ever thought he’d be five short years ago. Namely, on the free-agent scrap heap, ripe for the pickin’.

The parallels to former Oilers teammate and present Pen, Justin Schultz, are striking to say the least. Each entered the league in 2012-13 amid much fanfare (Schultz was recruited by Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey). Both initially performed well. Then their stock plummeted.

Heck, when Rutherford acquired Schultz for a third-round pick at the 2016 trade deadline, his once promising career lay virtually in ruins. Allowed to gradually regain his confidence under coach Mike Sullivan, the supremely skilled Schultz rose from the ashes like a latter day Phoenix. Now he’s arguably our top defenseman.

Could the same type of revival await Yakupov in the ‘Burgh?

It might be worth the gamble, especially since veteran left wing Chris Kunitz departed for the sunny climes of the Gulf Coast. Like many Russians, Yakupov, a left-handed shot, can play either wing. According to Fox Sports Midwest’s Andy Strickland, the 23-year-old is determined to resurrect his career and restore his tattered reputation.

Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar—revered by their countrymen—could have a positive influence on Nail. Might take some of the pressure off of him, too.

The downside? While hardly a Beau Bennett clone, the 5’11” 195-pounder’s a bit injury prone. And, let’s face it, he hasn’t exactly been trending upward. Yakupov might fizzle, which would cost us maybe a million dollars and change on a one-year contract.

The upside? The Pens could unearth a dazzling, dynamic winger on the cheap. Imagine, if you will, the prospect of a revitalized Yakupov skating alongside Malkin and Phil Kessel. It boggles my mind.

I say signing the kid, cap space permitting, is worth the risk.


Credit for sniffing out Yakupov goes to our north of the border friend and PenguinPoop contributor, James Arthurs.


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  1. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    July 5, 2017 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Mc David signs today a reduced contract to 12.5 million per year for 8 years instead of the 13.5 million per year originally floated by Edmonton media Monday. It shows his HOME TOWN discount. Gretzky his agent does it again.
    Mc David looks like a hero to his fans.

    Still going to affect all future contracts in the league because he is now the new GOLD STANDARD.

  2. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    July 5, 2017 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    Galchenyuk has signed tonight a 3 year deal with Montreal for $ 4.9 million average against the cap per year. $ 14.7 million total contract.
    Article says the Habs did not want to go to binding Arbitration.

  3. Mike's Gravatar Mike
    July 5, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink


    Changing gears to discuss the Penguins depth at center. I keep reading the need for depth at that position is reduced if Cullen returns. I’m not convinced this eases the burden for JR. Although a valuable asset I would think the Pens have to factor in his age and ability to produce going forward. I would be interested to hear everyone’s thoughts.

    • Jim's Gravatar Jim
      July 5, 2017 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      Hi Mike,
      The good news for me is,as of early this morning the last reports I have seen say that Cullen was approached by Minnesota, where he is from but they have failed to reach any agreement. So as Phil was hinting the other day it appears Cullen may be playing for us in September. With regards to his age,Cullen is one of those rare players who seem to defy time. Gary Roberts was another who comes to mind. Based upon his performance of just a month ago he was one of our best forwards. The true measure of Cullen’s value to the Pen’s is not how many goals he scores but to the contrary, HOW MANY HE PREVENTS. I would argue for his million dollars we pay him that he is every bit as valuable as Geno who we pay 12 million a year to.That is the value of Hockey as a team sport. On Championship teams the sum of all it’s parts are far, far greater than any one piece. Matt Cullen is a prime example.
      However I still believe we need a 3 rd line center to challenge for a 3 peat.
      We do have several options if we choose. As mentioned before, Jake G. is a natural center and that may be the way to go if, and that is a big IF you can find a left winger for Sidney. Or you can move Kessel to center. He is a phenomenal play maker and he has played center briefly in his earlier career. My preferred option is wait and see what develops in a trade as JR is doing. It has only been 5 days since the start of free agency.
      Come day 50, not day 5 and we still have not resolved this issue then I will worry a bit. Right now I want to see what Dumo resigns for and what Colorado will do if there are no serious offers for Duchene.
      Be interested to see what the others think..
      Great question Mike..

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      July 5, 2017 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

      Hey Mike,

      I don’t know if I’d be super comfortable going into the season with Cullen and Rowney as my third and fourth centers.

      Not that Cullen can’t still play. I agree with Jim–endurance-wise, he reminds me of Jaromir Jagr and Gary Roberts. There’s still a lot of juice in those 40-year-old legs, and he still plays with a lot of spirit.

      Of course, there’s no guarantee he’s coming back.

      I like Rowney better at right wing (love his hitting and board work). But baring a trade, given our log-jam on the right side, I think he’ll be penciled in as our fourth-line center…at least for starters. I’m okay with that.

      As far as internal options go, Jake Guentzel’s a natural center. I’m sure he’d do a decent job in the middle, but it’s kind of a no-brainer that he stays on Sid’s wing, except in a pinch.

      At Wilkes-Barre/Scranton? Restricted free-agent Jean-Sebastien Dea and Dominik Simon are centers, although they’ve played wing as well. Both have some skill–Dea (18 goals) can skate and Simon (46 points) is a slick little playmaker. However, neither is very big (both around 5-11 175), nor do they project as Bonino-type, two-way centers.

      I think the Pens project Teddy Blueger (31 points, +24) to be more of a classic, third-line center. But like the other guys, he’s got some developing to do.

      Other Rick mentioned Nikita Pavlychev, a monstrous 6’7″ 211-pound former draft pick who’s entering his sophomore season at Penn State. Love the kid’s size. Based on his numbers, he’s got a touch of nasty in his game (161 PIM at Des Moines in the USHL in ’15-16).

      I’m sure he’s got a ways to go.


  4. July 4, 2017 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Please remember that some of Rick’s pieces may be written in advance of being put on FB. Therefore, they may not be caught up with the quick changes that take place during periods like FA. It’s hard for anyone to write a piece at this time. He put out two excellent pieces ahead of the start of FA and then a summary the day after. Even I waited until the evening to post a list.


  5. July 4, 2017 at 6:38 pm | Permalink
  6. July 4, 2017 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    nope he signed with Avs lol

  7. July 4, 2017 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Marcus Krueger would more but he was just traded for a 2018 fifth round pick

  8. July 4, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Complete hockey news is reporting he just signed with the Avs

  9. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    July 4, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Hi Rick,
    Call me biased but I like the guy. For all of Edmonton’s current success with
    Mc David, Draisaitl,Kelfbom and Nuggent-Hopkins they have just as many failures with developing high first round picks. Yakupov, Magnus Paajarvi, Sam Gagner, Alex Plante, even Taylor Hall and of course Justin Schultz.
    So I think he is indeed a project that could bear fruit.
    I also agree with you that under the old Blues system he would be like a fish out of water. This guy needs to skate to be effective and plus realize he does not have to be a ONE MAN team. Phil had the same problem in Toronto.
    Speaking of Russians there is talk of left winger Ilya Kovalchuk coming back to the NHL and NJD has his rights and Shero would do a swap for a draft pick or a d man. Can everybody say Derrick Pouliot ??
    JR has had conversations with Shero the report said. Problem is I have no idea what the money would look like. For me it would have to be very cheap and if you think Radulov has issues… he is a choir boy compared to Kovalchuk.
    In Sochi at the Olympics on home soil he and OVI had some heated words on why they lost. Timing was not greatest. But to his credit he can play.
    A great day to be a Pen’s fan. Happy 4th Rick !

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      July 4, 2017 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      I lived in Atl when Kovalchuk was with the Thrashers. He is a stud when it comes to offense but he is a player I would never want on my team, even if we could afford his contract; he is 34 and has 8 more years on his contract. I am not 100% sure on how to read his contract because of his defection back to Russia has Penalties and odd readings it says that he is about $6 2/3 mil cap hit and average annual salary in some colums but $10 mil undee the column NHL salary. However, even at only $6 2/3 mil, I wouldn’t want him.

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        July 5, 2017 at 7:33 am | Permalink

        Hey Coach
        Kovalchuk returned home to KHL yesterday. He is a UFA next July 1,2018 and he plans to return then his agent said.
        Yakupov signed a 1 year,1 way contract for 875 K… Not a bad risk to take in my opinion.
        Hope you had a great holiday.

  10. July 4, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink



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