As another lost season winds down for the Edmonton Oilers, significant roster changes could be coming in the offseason. Expect right winger Nail Yakupov to be among the first on the trade block.
Since the Oilers selected Yakupov first overall in the 2012 NHL draft, he's struggled to play up to lofty expectations. Frequent coaching changes, lineup shuffles and constant losing haven't help the 22-year-old's development.
Leading up to the Feb. 29 trade deadline, there was speculation suggesting Yakupov could be dealt. On Monday, the Edmonton Journal's Jonathan Willis cited a report in a Russian sports outlet indicating Yakupov requested a trade prior to the deadline. The winger attempted to downplay the report, but didn't deny his agent approached Oilers management about a trade.
TSN's Bob McKenzie said he understands that Yakupov likely wants a fresh start elsewhere, suggesting the young Russian was probably on his way out this summer anyway. McKenzie believes the Oilers stand a better chance of moving Yakupov at the draft.
Despite Yakupov's struggles, he's still young enough to reverse his NHL fortunes elsewhere. He has a year remaining on his contract at an affordable $2.5 million, making him an affordable and enticing reclamation project.
The Oilers will attempt to get the best return for Yakupov. However, the Edmonton Sun's Jim Matheson observes they cannot sell him as a former top draft pick. Instead, they must peddle him as a promising player who's yet to pan out.
On his own, Yakupov might fetch, at best, another struggling youngster in need of a change of scenery. They could also try packaging him as part of a larger deal.
A couple of pundits wasted little time projecting potential trade destinations for Yakupov. Willis' colleague David Staples feels the New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, Tampa Bay Lightning and Winnipeg Jets all need a second-line right winger. SI.com's Allan Muir includes the Toronto Maple Leafs in a list that also includes the Canadiens, Lightning, Devils, Penguins and Canucks.
The “Yakupov to Montreal” chatter is due to his former junior-hockey teammate Alex Galchenyuk being with the Canadiens, sparking suggestions they could rekindle their on-ice chemistry. Earlier this month, however, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman claimed Habs management didn't appear to have much interest in Yakupov before the deadline. Unless they change their minds this summer, Yakupov won't be joining the Canadiens.
With the Islanders expected to part ways with pending UFA right winger Kyle Okposo in July, they could seek an experienced second-line right winger. While some Oilers fans might envision the Isles swapping defenseman Travis Hamonic for Yakupov, that's not going to happen. GM Garth Snow could promote from within to replace Okposo or shop around for other options via trades or free agency.
ESPN.com's Craig Custance recently reported there's talk the Vancouver Canucks could pursue Boston Bruins right winger Loui Eriksson via this summer's free-agent market. If so, they probably won't be interested in Yakupov. The Oilers are unlikely to ship Yakupov to their long-time rival in Calgary, while the cap-strapped Penguins can't afford him unless they can send some salary the other way.
Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is trying to find a trade partner for disgruntled left winger Jonathan Drouin. Swapping him for Yakupov probably isn't the type of return he has in mind. Adding a struggling winger doesn't sound like something the rebuilding Leafs are keen to do this summer, especially when they could do better via free agency or targeting teams that need to shed salary.
That leaves the Sabres, Hurricanes, Devils and Jets as more likely trade destinations. Buffalo GM Tim Murray has shown a willingness to gamble and could do so on Yakupov. The Hurricanes are commencing a rebuild and need depth at right wing. The low-scoring Devils could be in the market for offensive punch, while Yakupov might prove a tempting short-term option for cautious Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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