The 2012 NHL Entry Draft was not a normal draft year to say the least. At the forward position, it was one of the weakest draft years with only two forwards selected in the top 10. Instead, the top end of the draft was littered with defenseman, though lacking what I would consider a true franchise defenseman. While top defenseman are a rarer commodity than top forwards are, the typical course of action is to take the top forward, as they are more likely to reach their potential. Therefore, the Oilers ended up doing this by taking the consensus top forward in selecting Nail Yakupov. However, even though Yakupov was the best forward available in 2012 that does not mean he would be the best forward in other draft seasons. Therefore, I want to look at where I believe Yakupov may have fallen if a player of his potential was in other draft seasons. For comparing offensive potential of CHL forwards, I use a point prediction model called NHLP. For each season, I have slotted in Yakupov’s NHLP of 33-39-72 against the CHL forwards selected in the top 10 of that draft year.
It is a fair statement to say that McDavid and Eichel would have easily been selected ahead of Yakupov. Therefore, Yakupov would likely fall in the second tier of players among Strome, Marner and Hannifin. This means Yakupov could have gone as high as third or as low as sixth. In my opinion, Marner has more upside than Yakupov while Strome has similar offensive potential to Yakupov, but is the bigger player and plays the more important positon at centre. Therefore, in 2015 Yakupov would be considered a fifth overall pick at best.
There was a difference of opinions on who was the best player in the 2014 Draft and Yakupov would have been in the mix. If we compare Yakupov with the top forwards in 2014, Yakupov would likely have slotted below the three centres in Reinhart, Draisaitl and Bennett. That would leave Yakupov in a battle with Dal Colle for being the fifth overall selection. Therefore, once again I see Yakupov as a #5 overall pick at best.
In the 2013 draft, there was a top four in the draft of MacKinnon, Drouin, Barkov and Jones and it would be tough to include Yakupov in the group. Drouin has more upside than Yakupov, while MacKinnon and Barkov have size and better all-around games. Jones who received 1st overall buzz during the year, would also likely be selected ahead. Once again, Yakupov would be at best a fifth overall pick in the mix with Lindholm.
This is the first draft where I think Yakupov would have a realistic chance of being in the top four. I have previously reviewed the 2011 Draft and explain why I believe RNH was the right choice for the Oilers at number 1. With his strong second half of the 2011 season, I believe a two-way centre such as RNH would be more valued than Yakupov. However, Yakupov would have been in the running with Landeskog, Huberdeau and Larsson for the second overall spot. I had Huberdeau second, who is a player that projected to have similar potential to Yakupov, with both wingers bringing a physical edge to their game.
The 2010 draft would have remained a debate between Taylor and Tyler with Yakupov also getting some love. After Tyler and Taylor were gone there was a drop-off in the talent level with Gudbransson going third overall. I believe Yakupov, if available would go third between Seguin and Gudbransson.
The 2009 draft was a battle between Tavares and Hedman for the top spot. Once again, I see the franchise centre and defenseman being selected before Yakupov. Therefore, I believe Yakupov would have fallen into the second tier along with Duchene, but once again I see the centre being taken before Yakupov. Therefore, Yak would have been at best the fourth overall selection where Evander Kane was taken.
The 2008 draft was Stamkos as the consensus #1, while a battle of the defenseman for #2 between Doughty, Bogosian and Pietrangelo. It would have been tough for Yakupov to crack into this top four, as all three defenseman projected to be #1 franchise defenseman. Once again, Yakupov would likely be the fifth selection in the draft.
Similar to 2011, Yakupov would not challenge for first overall, as Kane would be the higher ranked player. However, after that selection, the top end of the draft was wide open and Yakupov could go as high as second, ahead of JVR. However, at the same time, players like Voracek at seventh or Couture at ninth could have realistically gone before Yak.
It would have been tough for Yakupov to crack a top five of E. Johnson, J. Staal, Toews, Backstrom and Kessel. The only player out of that group I could argue Yakupov going higher than is Jordan Staal, who does not statistically have the same offensive upside as Yak. However, I believe Yakupov would likely have been selected after Staal as many scouts overrated Jordan believing he had the first line upside of his brother Eric. Yakupov would likely end up as high as sixth where Brassard ended up being selected.
In 2005 there was Crosby and than there was everybody else. The battle for second overall was between Ryan, Pouliot, J. Johnson, Brule and Kopitar (who somehow fell to the Kings at 11th). Someone like Yakupov would have been in this mix and could have gone as high as second but just as easily fell to after Brule at the sixth spot.
There you have it folks. 10 seasons of drafts where I believe Yakupov is at best a second overall selection and at worst, he could have been a late top 10 pick, in a top-heavy draft year. If we average out my best-case scenarios for Yakupov, he should be considered similar to a 4th overall selection, in an average draft year, not as a true #1 overall pick. This is something to keep in mind when judging him, as it is not Yakupov’s fault that he fell in a draft year with such a weak top end. That is just how the draft works out. No two are ever the same and they are not all created equal. However, the world has a way of balancing out and just three years later it more than made up for the weak draft year in 2012.