Nail Yakupov has found a new team. The St. Louis Blues decided against giving Yakupov a qualifying offer after a mediocre 2016-17 season and now the 23-year-old will call the Colorado Avalanche home, signing a one-year, $875,000 deal.
Looking back, the Blues acquired Yakupov in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers in October. The hope was that the former first overall pick would find his enormous potential in a new environment. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case as he struggled to make an impression.
The Blues gave Yakupov 40 games of work in 2016-17 and he managed to contribute just three goals and six assists. You could maybe make a case that the Blues’ depth pushed Yakupov down in the lineup, influencing who he was skating with and what kind of opportunity he would have, but that might be a bit of a stretch. Yakupov’s line may have not been ideal for his development, but he struggled in many basic areas which have no bearing on who is on the same line – positioning, control of the puck, aggressiveness and more.
Yakupov had some nice speed, but like Blues fans saw in Magnus Paajarvi before he turned his game on, speed doesn’t amount to much when it’s not combined with other assets. Yakupov could really move down the nice, but that skill seems pretty irrelevant when he wasn’t able to do anything with the puck.
Yakupov will always have the “top overall pick” label sitting over his head and he probably won’t ever live up to that high bar. Still, the way he manages to skate through a game without actually contributing is a legitimate criticism which he needs to address.
It’s possible the Colorado Avalanche will be able to give Yakupov more of the opportunity he needs (they can afford to regularly pencil him into the lineup since expectations are quite low), but he’ll need to go back to the basics which found him some success in his first season in the NHL when he scored 17 goals in 48 games in 2012-13.