Monday March 28th, 2016

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After Monday night's contest against the Anaheim Ducks, the Edmonton Oilers will be down to their final three games of the season.

That may be the duration of Nail Yakupov's stay with the team as well.

Yakupov, the first pick in the 2012 draft, revealed to a Russian newspaper over the weekend that he requested a trade before the Feb. 29 deadline. The Oilers gave him permission to talk to other teams, and there was enough interest that Yakupov thought a deal was at hand.

While it didn't transpire at that point, it's a good bet that some team will give him the fresh start he needs over the summer, as long as the price is right.

NHL roundtable: Sliders, sleepers and an Oilers rule

And that's the trick. Because there's probably a wide gap between what the Oilers think the six-goal, 19-point winger is worth and what others are willing to pay for him.

GM Peter Chiarelli is thought to be holding out for the sort of value one would expect in exchange for a potential superstar. Remember, Yakupov might be underperforming this season, but he still has the third most goals of any player in the 2012 draft class, behind only Alex Galchenyuk and Filip Forsberg.

But while Chiarelli is free to ask whatever price he likes, he's more likely to find a buyer if he recognizes that Yakupov's slow development has seriously dented his value.

For a deal to happen then, the Oilers likely will have to settle for a combination of B-level picks and prospects. Remember that the Bruins sent two second rounders to Tampa for former No. 6 pick Brett Connolly in 2015. It seemed like a vast overpayment then and now (he was scratched for Boston's 3-1 win over Toronto on Saturday), but it's possible that a deal could be made using that swap as a guideline.

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When Yakupov's request is granted—and seems like only a matter of time—here are the six teams to which he's most likely to be dealt:

Montreal Canadiens: Depending upon your perspective, Marc Bergevin's most pressing need heading into this offseason is either A) replacing Michel Therrien or B) improving an underwhelming forward corps. It can be argued that Yakupov doesn't address either problem, but there's reason to believe he might provide that upgrade up front.

Remember, his old junior linemate Alex Galchenyuk and his emergence as a viable top center has been the one bright spot in this otherwise dismal season for the Canadiens. It's entirely possible that Galchenyuk, who was taken with the third pick by Montreal in 2012, could be the one to bring out the best in Yakupov. The two don't necessarily need to play together—just putting him in a room where he feels more comfortable and more focused might do the trick. And given their state of affairs, that's a risk worth taking for the Habs.

Maple Leafs and the textbook tank

Toronto Maple Leafs: Mike Babcock has already shown a knack for pulling guys off the scrap heap and molding them into valuable assets in Toronto—think Matt Hunwick, Martin Marincin and P-A Parenteau. There are jobs to be won in their top-six, and Yakupov has the skill to fill the role. The question is, does Babcock believe he has the will to become a player? If so, this is an easy call for the Leafs, who hold extra second- and third-rounders in this year's draft and three seconds in 2017.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Depending on how Steve Yzerman plays his cards, the Bolts could have a very different look when next season rolls around. He currently has two pending UFAs (including Steven Stamkos) and seven RFA forwards that need to be re-signed over the summer. Given the constraints of the salary cap, it's unlikely that all will be back. He also has a decision to make on Ryan Callahan, a valuable player weighed down by a $5.8 million contract, and Jonathan Drouin, his own devalued asset.

If he decides to be aggressive, Yzerman has an extra second rounder to play with this year. His also has Drouin, a player who might benefit from a fresh start with another organization. If he makes a move, it'll likely come ahead of the draft.

New Jersey Devils: No team needs an infusion of talent up front more desperately than the Devils. The league's most impotent offense (2.22 goals per game) features too many players skating too high up in the lineup. Adding skill this offseason is a priority. They have picks to move, and a fairly deep (if uncertain) pool of blueline talent that might feel a need for the defense-starved Oilers. And remember: Devante Smith-Pelly's career was miraculously revived under rookie coach John Hynes. He might be able to do the same for Yakupov.

Phil Kessel heats up at the right time

Pittsburgh Penguins: Do the Pens have the assets to make a deal? Years of win-now swaps have reduced the organization to bits and pieces, but that doesn't rule out a trade entirely. Especially when Pittsburgh is looking to upgrade on the wings to maximize the impact of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. And remember, Chris Kunitz is 36 and is not suffering from Benjamin Button disease. At the rate he's aging, there could be a top-six spot available soon.

Vancouver Canucks: After this season, something has to change. Like the Devils, the Canucks are desperate for offense...and maybe even more desperate for a shakeup. Some wingers are aging out (Daniel Sedin, Radim Vrbata, Alex Burrows); others are too young and unproven (Jake Virtanen, Emerson Etem). It might not be an ideal environment to bring out the best in Yakupov, but it's easy to imagine Vancouver looking at him and seeing a viable reclamation project.

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