While the 2012 NHL Entry Draft had many surprises, the Edmonton Oilers selecting right wing Nail Yakupov of the OHL's Sarnia Sting with the No. 1 overall pick was not surprising in the least.
Sure, there were rumors that the Oilers wanted to trade out of the No. 1 pick, or that they were going to draft Ryan Muray with the No. 1 pick and address their huge needs on defense. At the end of the day, however, the Oilers could not pass on the highly skilled Yakupov.
Yakupov was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in just about every mock draft there was leading into the actual draft, and for good reason.
With an undeniable blend of skill, physicality and finishing ability, Yakupov really looks like a can't miss prospect. He possesses one of the best one-timers I have seen in a very long time. And he is absolutely lethal when it is just he and the goalie one-on-one.
In looking at his profile on thehockeywriters.com, many prominent scouts had nothing but great things to say about Yakupov.
"Yakupov is a gifted goal scoring forward, something that really doesn’t seem to come around that often, so when one does he is a hot commodity," said Head Scout Ross MacLean of International Scouting Services.
"Nail is arguably the best prospect available in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft for several reasons. First and foremost is his skating. He maintains a low centre of gravity, great strength in his lower body and his quick footwork allows his first few steps to be very strong, giving him exceptional acceleration... He can explode on the outside, but also has excellent lateral agility and can go outside/inside better than most players in the CHL... The release on his shot is powerful and accurate, none more so than his one-timer. Goaltenders simply need to hope that the puck hits him, because when he connects it’s just a blur."
NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards had similar praise for Yakupov:
"His first step and ability to control bouncing pucks, knock them down and make a play are the best of any of the guys in the draft, in my opinion. He really gets up to top speed very quickly and his hands are outstanding. Like Pavel Bure, Yakupov is dangerous every shift."
In his two years with the Sarnia Sting, Yakupov's numbers certainly supported his being considered the No. 1 overall prospect.
In 2010-11, he led his team and Ontario Hockey League rookies in scoring with 101 points (49-52—101) in 65 games.
This past season, he had 69 points in only 42 games.
Internationally, Yakupov played in the 2012 World Junior Championships where he tied for the tournament lead with nine assists.
In the 2011 Wold Under-18 Championships, Yakupov was a key reason that the Russians won a bronze medal, including scoring a hat trick in the bronze medal game.
By all accounts and indications, Nail Yakupov should have a stellar NHL career.
But just how good a career will he have?
Let's pull out our crystal ball and make five bold predictions for the career of this year's No. 1 overall draft pick, Nail Yakupov.
To start off his NHL career, Yakupov will break an NHL record just set this past season by his new teammate, and former No. 1 overall pick, Ryan Nugent Hopkins.
On October 15, 2011, in only his third NHL game, Nugent-Hopkins recorded a hat trick against the Vancouver Canucks.
In doing so, he set a new NHL record for the earliest career hat trick ever recorded by a No. 1 overall pick.
With all of the offensive fire power the Oilers now have, particularly with Yakupov, Nugent-Hopkins, and the No. 1 overall pick from the 2010 draft Taylor Hall all in the mix, look for Yakupov to break that record this season.
What makes this prediction even more bold is that Yakupov will have to do this against either the Canucks on the road or in the Oilers' home opener against the defending champion Los Angeles Kings and Jonathan Quick.
With the Canucks' goaltending situation still up in the air, Yakupov's chances would seem better against the Canucks than the Kings and Quick.
A hat trick in his very first NHL game?
It doesn't get much more bold than that.
At first blush, this would not seem like much of a bold prediction at all.
After all, the No. 1 overall pick should win the Calder Memorial Trophy or NHL's version of Rookie of the Year.
But history has said otherwise.
The last No. 1 overall pick to also win the Calder Memorial Trophy was Patrick Kane following the 2007-2008 season.
In fact, since 1963, the top overall pick in the NHL Draft has come away with the Calder Memorial Trophy only eight times.
Yakupov will be the ninth and the first to accomplish the feat in five years.
Here is another prediction that, at least initially, does not seem that bold.
You would think that unless they are a complete bust, most No. 1 overall picks would be 50 goal scorers by their second season, right?
Obviously, we don't know what Nugent-Hopkins will do in his second season yet.
Taylor Hall only had 27 goals this past season, his second in the NHL.
John Tavares, the New York Islanders No. 1 overall pick from 2009, had 29 goals in his second season on Long Island.
You have to go back to Steven Stamkos, the No. 1 overall pick for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008, to find the last No. 1 pick to rack up 50 goals in his second season. Stamkos had 51 goals in the 2009-2010 season.
Before that, you have to go back to Alex Ovechkin, who actually pulled the feat in his rookie season, saw his production slip to 45 goals in his second season, and then he scored 50 goals or more the following three seasons.
Like Yakupov, Stamkos played for the Sarnia Sting.
The Sting will again produce the next No. 1 overall pick to score 50 goals in just his second season.
In the 2005-2006 NHL postseason, the Edmonton Oilers had a magical run that lasted all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Edmonton came up short in that epic series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
But not as short as they have come up since then.
The Oilers have failed to make the playoffs since that tremendous season.
To say that Nail Yakupov will lead the Oilers back to the playoffs does not seem bold enough.
The Western Conference, in my opinion, is not quite as deep a conference as the East, so getting into the playoff tournament is not that daunting a task.
Getting back to the Stanley Cup Finals however? Now that's a different story entirely.
Yet I am predicting the Oilers will get back to the Cup finals within the next four years.
Only Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane have accomplished such a feat recently.
Crosby got the Penguins back to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008, three years after he had been selected No. 1 overall by the Pens. The following year, Crosby helped the Pens win the Cup for the first time in 17 years.
Cane was able to help get the Blackhawks back to the Cup Finals in 2010, again three years after he was drafted No. 1 by Chicago. Once there, he helped the Blackhaws win the Cup for the first time since 1961.
With Yakupov, I think he will get Edmonton back to the Stanley Cup Finals by his fourth season in the NHL. The Oilers still have some big holes to fill on defense. But once Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov have a few seasons under their belts, that Edmonton offense will be nothing short of scary.
Look for Edmonton to return to glory, with Yakupov leading the way, by the 2016-2017 season.
The boldest prediction I will make for the career of Nail Yakupov is that he will have a career worthy of the Hall of Fame.
True, that goes beyond bold. I will give you that.
But if the other four predictions I have made come true, Yakupov will be well on his way towards a Hall of Fame quality career.
When you watch the video profile in this slide, you will learn that Yakupov already broke several records that Steven Stamkos set during his days with the Sarnia Sting.
I do not know too many people out there who would say that Stamkos does not have a legitimate shot at the Hall of Fame based on the way his career has gone so far.
There have been comparisons drawn between Yakupov and Pavel Bure. As indicated in the video, Bure is Yakupov's idol.
"The Russian Rocket" Bure was one of those players who was a real game changer and had a stellar career. He averaged better than a point per game in his NHL career (779 points with 437 goals in 702 NHL games).
Bure might not be in the hockey Hall of Fame (yet) but he was inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federations' Hall of Fame in 2012. It is certainly not out of the question that Bure will someday be inducted into the hockey Hall of Fame.
If Yakupov models his playing style after Bure, and can keep pace with the likes of Stamkos over the course of his career, then predicting that Yakupov will have a Hall of Fame career does not seem so bold after all.