Nail Yakupov is widely regarded as the best overall prospect in this season's NHL draft class and will likely be selected by the Edmonton Oilers with the first pick tonight. In a draft with a lack of surefire prospects, he's a rare talent.
Let's take a look at what fans should expect to see from Yakupov once he makes his debut. He's one of the few players that's ready to make the jump, so it shouldn't take long for him to start making an impact at the next level.
The best asset Yakupov has right now is his speed. He's capable of getting around defenders and, when paired with his great hands, can make them look downright silly at times. In today's game where teams attempt to clog up the neutral zone as much as possible, speed is key.
He's also a natural goal scorer. He found the net 80 times in 107 games for the OHL's Sarnia Sting over the past two seasons. Finding young players who are already extremely confident in the attacking zone is rare, which helped Yakupov stand out.
The area of his game that he's really improved in recent years has been serving as a playmaker. He has made a conscientious effort to become a more complete offensive player and it really showed at the U-20 World Junior Championships when he has nine assists in seven games for Russia.
Taking that next step is really what allowed him to transform from a good prospect to an elite one. Teams won't find a more prepared prospect in terms of offense than Yakupov.
What will best desribe Yakupov in five years?
To Be Improved
Yakupov's biggest area of concern, as it is with so many young scorers, would be defense. Luckily, playing that side of the game often comes down to effort more than actual talent, especially for forwards. As long as he's willing to put in the work, it should be an easy fix.
The only other worry is his lack of size. He checks in at just 5'11" and 190 pounds. That could be a problem of the course of an 82-game season. Teams are obviously going to play him physically early in his career to see if he holds up.
He should be able to add some strength and fill out his frame within a couple years. Until then, he'll have to rely on his speed.
Yakupov has received a lot of hype during the draft process and he's worth every bit of it. He's the best player in this draft and will be a star in the league before long. He should be competing for the scoring title within a handful of years.
Assuming the Oilers do select him, he'll join a roster that's got plenty of young talent, including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall. He would be a perfect addition to their rebuilding effort and will benefit from getting to grow with his teammates.
A worthy first-overall selection.