The Columbus Blue Jackets had their best performance of the 2011-12 season, finishing last in the league with a 29-46-7 record. The Edmonton Oilers finished second in second but ended up with the first overall pick in the draft because General Manager Steve Tamblini showed up in the lottery with his lucky tie.
It was Edmonton’s first straight pick, picking Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent Hopkins among the top picks in the 2010 and 2011 drafts. It seemed inevitable that Oilers would break the trend and pick a defender in 2012, but a sweepstakes win changed everything. Because it gave them the opportunity to craft the next Pavel Bure.
Nail Yakupov broke onto the scene in 2010-11 scoring 49 goals, 101 points per season as a rookie playing for Sarnia Sting of the OHL. His 2011-12 campaign was marred by injury, with Yakubov scoring 69 points in 42 games, but the uproar the previous season eventually made him the best in the draft.
There was an argument between Taylor and Tyler in 2010, and some talked about Adam Larson being the top pick in 2011, but the hottest controversy among Edmonton’s top three consecutive picks came in 2012.
Many said the Oilers needed to take on a defender to balance their heavy front core, either by trading down or simply picking Everett Silvertips’ Ryan Murray with the top pick. Others suggested that the best available player was always the right move, and Yakubov seemed to be a bewildering talent.
The Oilers ended up with unanimity and chose Yakupov with the top pick.
Early on, it seemed like the right move, as Yakubov scored 17 goals and 31 points in 48 games in the closing-over 2013 season and finished fifth in the Calder Trophy vote. But it all went downhill from there.
Yakubov scored 11 goals in 2013-14 and 14 in 2014-15 but that wasn’t enough to make up for the total loss he would have otherwise looked on the ice. Yakubov’s goal difference on the ice during those two seasons was a whopping 55 to 107, among the worst average of any striker in the league at the time.
After one more season in Edmonton in which he scored eight goals and 23 points in 60 games, Yakubov was traded to the St. Louis Blues for a no-probability and third-round loss being overturned for another draft pick that was later used on Stewart Skinner.
Yakupov played one season with the Blues and another season with the Colorado Avalanche and has since played in the KHL. In 2020-21, Yakubov’s team, Omsk Avangard, won the Gagarin Cup.
Given the way it was all done, it’s easy to forget how much hype OHL’s Yakubov made. His pace and style of play are comparable to Pavel Bure and his goal scoring is reminiscent of Stephen Stamkos when he played for Sting a few years ago.
Yakupov has been very good in his junior season and appears to be on his way to a successful career in the NHL. But after the Oilers fired coach Ralph Krueger and replaced him with Dallas Aikins, Yakubov’s game fell off a cliff as he appeared to have lost all confidence.
Would things have turned out differently for Yakubov if he had been drafted by a different team? Or was it always destined to be a bust? It’s impossible to say, but on the 10th anniversary of his draft day, let’s remember this moment when we were blessed by Neil Yakubov in the junior season…