MN Wild Trade Targets: Nail Yakupov

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There are more ways to improve the Minnesota Wild than by signing Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, or Matt Niskanen this offseason. So, leading up to the draft, Hockey Wilderness is going to look at 15 potential trade candidates around the league for the Minnesota Wild to target.

We're here! The final trade target: Yak. Yak, besides being a slang term for an aircraft corporation, is the affectionate nickname for Nail Yakupov, the 5' 11'', 186 lb. Right Winger, currently employed by the Edmonton Oilers. Yak was the first overall pick in 2012, coming to Edmonton from the CHL's Sarnia Sting.

IN 22 games in his native Russia, Yak scored 10 goals and grabbed 8 assists. He improved in his first year in Edmonton to 17-14 in 48 games. This past season, Yak scored 11 goals and 13 assists in 63 games for the Oilers. While that regression may seem concerning, it's important to realize that in his first season, Yak earned a wildly unsustainable sh% of 21. The next season, playing in 63 games, it regressed closer to the league average, and was 9%.

There are certainly signs that he improved in his second season, however. His CF% slightly rose, from 42 to 44, while his CF%Rel improved from -2.9 to +.8; he became a positive possession player; a sign not only that his skills improved, but that his understanding of the game improved. His FF%Rel at 5-on-5 jumped from -4.4 to +1.7, indicating that he generated more scoring chances for his team. That extra possession also didn't come from a lack of shooting; Yak's shots/60 increased from 7 to 8 in his sophomore season.

What's more, a glance at Some Kind of Ninja's "Super Shot Search" function will tell you that Yak's 119 shots this season came from an average of 30.7 feet away. While I don't know that I would put all my faith in location of shot information, it's pretty clear that these shots are not tip-ins, tap-ins, or deflections; Yak is a sniper, first and foremost.

Young Guns

Another thing that it's important to remember is that Yak is only 20 years old: he is VERY young, and players generally don't reach their scoring prime till the age of 24. Regardless, Yak ranks pretty high up in the league in a lot of important areas. A journey to Hockey ReferenceHEREHERE, or HERE especially, will demonstrate this fact (and they are where I've pulled the following numbers). These links will help us look at Yak's first two seasons as a 19 and 20-year-old compared to other players' first two seasons as a 19 and 20-year old. The names Yak has outproduced are interesting, to say the least. Thanks to Ger for showing this function of Hockey Reference, by the way.

Looking at that FIRST link:

Goals/Game, age 19 Rookie Season, >40 Games Played

1

Jason Arnott

.42

2

Jonathan Toews

.38

3

Nail Yakupov

.35

4

Taylor Hall

.34

5

Matt Duchene

.30


There are some pretty big names below Yak on that list, including Anze Kopitar (.28), Patrick Kane (.26), Jarome Iginla (.26), Phil Kessel, and Tyler Seguin.

Looking at the SECOND link:

Goals/Game, Age 20 Season, >40 Games Played

37

Jeff O'Neill

.19

38

Peter Mueller

.18

39

Nail Yakupov

.17

40

Alexander Burmistrov

.17

41

Ales Hemsky

.17

Yak's second season was quite a struggle; his sh% plummeted, and he generally produced quite poorly. However...

Looking at the THIRD link:

(remember, this is the average of both those seasons)

Goals/Game, Age 19-20 Seasons, >80 Games Played

26

Derek Stepan

.26

27

Patrick Marleau

.26

28

Nail Yakupov

.25

29

Adam Deadmarsh

.24

30

Peter Mueller

.23

And, we've returned to Yak, over the course of his career, having a better goals/game average than Phil Kessel, Jarome Iginnla, Justin Williams, and Joe Thornton when they were at the same place in their careers.

While not a guarantee of success, this is very promising: Yak's low numbers this season by no means indicate that he is a bust. Acquiring Yak right now is almost the epitome of buying low on a player, and this particular player has a sky-high ceiling.

Wild Appeal

That is, primarily, the reason the Wild would be interested in him. His highlight reel shows that many of his goals come off rebounds, though certainly not all. He is absolutely stellar off the one-timer, and generally has fantastic hands and great puck control in his shot. Were the Wild to acquire Yak, they would be getting someone who isn't going to hit posts, miss the net, or miss opportunities.

A glance at CapGeek's Salary Chart shows that Yak is still on his entry-level contract for $925,000 until the 2015-2016 season, at which time his is a restricted free-agent. This would not be a "loaner" acquisition, and the Wild could retain Yak's services for years to come.

This serves two purposes: it helps the Wild win now, and also sets them up with a goalscorer for the future. Working with the great playmakers the Wild already have, Yak could see great success in the State of Hockey.

Edmonton's Ire

Yakupov is not a spotless player- no one is. The knock on Yak is that his work ethic isn't there; that he thinks he is skilled enough to succeed as it is. Because of this, Edmonton is likely looking to move him, and already have tried this season. Darren Dreger of TSN says this of Yak.

"I would say it's unlikely that he's an Edmonton Oiler next season. So it makes sense that they'll try and move him. They were trying to move him at various points this season. Word is out that Nail Yakupov is available. The problem is, no one really wants him. Certainly not for the value that the Edmonton Oilers are going to need to get back in return. And you can see why. He had opportunities in this game early on. He scored one goal in his last 11 games. He was on the ice late in the game when the Blues scored to tie the hockey game. He's an NHL worst -30. He lacks commitment. He thinks that skill is enough to be an NHL player. And the unfortunate reality for Nail Yakupov is that, yes, he's a skilled player, but not an elite level skill player. And until he finds a way to absorb the message, the market on Nail Yakupov isn't going to be great. They might have to package him with a collection of assets to get something better in return."

Ouch. Those are harsh words, and if true, mean that Edmonton is certainly open to offers for Yak. Those words- said in March of 2014- are a far cry from this TSN article from November of 2013, where Dreger says "[Nail Yakupov] won't be traded this year."

The rumors are already pouring in. After Bob McKenzie of TSN tweeted that Winnipeg is open to trading any player "including Evander Kane," the Edmonton Journal suggested a Kane-for-Yakupov straight up trade. This rumor is just that; a rumor. There is no indication that the teams have even discussed this trade. Frankly, if the Winnipeg Jets are giving up on the Evander Kane project, the odds are not great they want another apparent assembly-required project like Yak.

Rumors also are out there that Yakupov may be traded to the Panthers for the first overall trade in this years' draft.

None of these sources cite them team, however. That said, Darren Dreger tends to have his finger on the pulse of the Oilers, and it is likely that Edmonton is looking to move Yak. If that's true, he would be a great fit in Minnesota.

Rough Sketch

If the Oilers are indeed looking to move Yak, and if the Wild are indeed interested, what would that trade look like? Obviously, the Oilers are going to want value for their first overall pick, but right now he is seen as damaged goods, and I think they will struggle to get full value, given Yak's sophomore slump and reported off-ice issues.

Likely, the Oilers are looking for someone a bit bigger, with some skill and some grit. Charlie Coyle is the kind of player they might be looking for. Nino Niederreiter would likely be perfect, but I doubt the Wild trade him. Jason Zucker can provide a "Diet-Yak" for the Oiler's to try and work into their lineup as a deal-sweetener, and/or the Wild could give them some a draft pick or two.

The question will be: how much would the Oiler's ask for, and how far would the Wild be willing to go to acquire a sniper they need?

Yak's low cap hit means that this acquisition also wouldn't forgo the Thomas Vanek signing that many are hoping for; and Vanek could be a kind of mentor for Yak, as they are both of the sniper persuasion. Mikko Koivu's leadership can help Nail mature off the ice and as a complete player.

Regarding lines; teaming Yak up with a playmaking center like Mikael Granlund, and putting a more defensively responsible player on the other wing (Coyle or Nino) could be a great combination. Alternatively, Koivu's size could be complimented by Yak's speed and skill, and the two could combine, leaving the other wing open for multiple options.

Nail Yakupov could be a great tool for the Wild. He is in the right situation for a trade, and the Wild would have a chance to buy about as low as you could hope for. Additionally, trade rumors have been abundant for almost a year, and Edmonton could well be looking to move him. He isn't a perfect player, but he is certainly someone the Wild should be looking at grabbing if they can.

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