Sep 27, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Edmonton Oilers player Nail Yakupov at Cox Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Thanksgiving Hypotheticals: Could Nail Yakupov Be A Fit On The Montreal Canadiens?

Early this morning, I came across an article making the rounds on Twitter about Edmonton Oiler Nail Yakupov. The Edmonton Journal piece discussed the fact that the 2nd year player was recently made a healthy scratch, and that he is likely to be benched again for Monday’s game versus the Washington Capitals. Nail Yakupov, as I’m sure you remember, was drafted 2nd overall in 2012 and is a dynamic offensive talent. He put up 31 points (17G 14A) in 48G in his first season, but is currently sitting pointless in 4 games with a -3. He was fairly invisible in the 13 minutes of ice-time versus the Canadiens last week, and was solidly outperformed by his former teammate Alex Galchenyuk.

He was subsequently scratched for the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday evening, and it looks like rookie head coach Dallas Eakins is trying to send the young forward a message. Nail Yakupov’s response, however, leaves a little to be desired:

“I’m going to play my game,” he said. “I’m not going to change but maybe play better without the puck, or forecheck more, but I love playing with the puck. I really don’t like skating all the time, and forechecking, and hitting somebody every shift. I don’t think it’s my game.” 

Granted, it could very well be a media frenzy over a misconstrued quote taken out of context – or it could be indicative of the Oilers and a young, dynamic offensive player not seeing eye-to-eye on coaching style. A lot has been made of Dallas Eakins‘ coaching debut, and the emphasis on physical fitness, but the results aren’t there. Offensively, Edmonton have scored 17 goals, but have let in 25. Goaltending and defence has been a major problem, while their offensive guns have largely been working. The team is a little top-heavy at this point, with a bevy of offensively talented players making up a crowded top-six: Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Gagner, David Perron and veteran Ales Hemsky. At this point, every single one of those players (besides the injured Sam Gagner, whose a centre anyway) has outplayed Nail Yakupov. He’s found himself on the 3rd line alongside Boyd Gordon and a revolving extra winger. David Staples of the Edmonton Journal has an excellent take on his current usage, and argues that he needs to play with complementary high-end skilled linemates, since he seems to be producing scoring chances on a regular basis.

In any event, he doesn’t sound too happy with his usage and the suggestion that his game needs to change. Though earlier in the above quote, he does admit that he needs to learn to play better without the puck, the suggestion that he change his style fundamentally is a problem. You’re not going to be able to turn him into a forechecking, defensively-aware power forward, but his ability to be a game-changing shot is unique.

What does this have to do with the Canadiens? It crossed my mind that maybe there’s room to work out a trade between these two teams. Edmonton needs goaltending and/or defence and the Canadiens could use a skilled, young player like Nail Yakupov. Honestly, when these types of talents become available, I don’t think much convincing is needed. Yakupov is a talented sniper whose played with Alex Galchenyuk. He’s on the smallish side at 5’11, 184 lbs, but he’s the type of dynamic talent where I don’t think size matters too much. On the Edmonton side, obviously one healthy scratch doesn’t equal that he needs to be traded – but they are top-heavy and he might be the most expendable of the bunch.

If I could suspend the reality of some of the contracts on the Canadiens’ books this year, this would be an ideal lineup.

Bourque – Plekanec – Gionta

Pacioretty – Eller – Briere

Yakupov – Galchenyuk – Gallagher

Moen/Parros – Bournival – Prust

For obvious reasons, I’ve left out David Desharnais. The first three lines definitely would drive possession, and the 4th is a reasonably good physical line that could change momentum. They’re still small on the wings, but I would suspect that Brian Gionta won’t be re-signed this offseason, and Daniel Briere would only have 1 more year left on his contract. At that point, some of the bigger wingers in the Canadiens pipeline might be ready for a full-time role with the big club.

What do the Canadiens have that might interest the Oilers? They need D pretty badly, so maybe Josh Gorges + a pick and prospect (maybe throw in Morgan Ellis or Louis Leblanc – both of whom could probably thrive with a fresh start)? Would Nathan Beaulieu + + + be enough? You’re going to need to give up a significant package to get him, so I was wondering what a good starting place for discussions would be. If I’m Edmonton, I’m asking for P.K. Subban or Jarred Tinordi or Carey Price, but that wouldn’t be in the Canadiens best interests.

What do you think would be a fair package (to both sides) that could bring Nail Yakupov to the bleu-blanc-rouge?

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