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Stauffer Stuff: April 11

by Bob Stauffer / Edmonton Oilers
Bill Daly announces the Oilers as the winners of the Draft Lottery

There is an old saying “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” and you can make a strong assertion that it applies to the Edmonton Oilers after winning the NHL Draft Lottery on Tuesday night in Toronto.

The Oilers had an 18.8% chance to win the lottery and for the first time since the inception of the Draft Lottery back in 1995 a second-to-last place team has won it and ended up with the #1 overall pick.

The end result is the Oilers now can become the first team since the Quebec Nordiques of 1989-91 to have three consecutive #1 overall picks.

Oil Country obviously has already seen the immediate impact of the last two #1 overall picks with the arrival of the dynamic Taylor Hall (2010) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011), who have combined with the Oilers first round pick in 2008, Jordan Eberle, to give the club a trio of exciting, smaller, skilled, star forwards.

The general consensus is that the top prospect for the upcoming 2012 NHL Entry Draft is another smaller, skilled forward in Nail Yakupov from the Sarnia Sting.

Yakupov has scored 80 goals while adding 90 assists for a total of 170 points in just 107 games for the Sting in his two seasons in the OHL. He also stepped up at the World Junior Tournament this past winter registering three assists in Russia’s 6-5 victory over Canada in the Semi-Final game.

Nail Yakupov
Yakupov is ranked as the #1 skater in North America by Central Scouting in their final rankings. He is also currently ranked #1 by the International Scouting Service and by the Red Line Report.

Former Calgary Flames GM Craig Button produces the “Craig’s List” for TSN and he has Yakupov at  #1, and TSN Insider Bob McKenzie’s informal poll of 10 different NHL scouts saw Yakupov garner almost a unanimous ranking of #1.

In other words pretty much everybody sees the electrifying Russian who has drawn comparisons to Pavel Bure as the best player in this year’s draft.

Nonetheless, some fans and media are already suggesting that the Oilers should move the pick to address improving their defence corps. Implying that the organization cannot afford to take another smaller winger (Yakupov is listed at 5’11”, 190 pounds) when the team already has Hall at left wing and Eberle on the right side.

I am not buying that for a second!

Nothing changes the course of a game more than a goal, especially in today’s dead puck era.

A team can never have enough skill and scoring and is not like the Oilers closed out the season like the ’85 Oilers, as the current edition put up only six goals in the final six games. Granted they did not have Hall at their disposal after he was shut down for shoulder surgery after registering 27 goals and 53 points in 61 games this season.

The hockey gods have smiled upon on the Oilers and handed them a “gift horse”. In Yakupov they would be getting a highly-skilled Russian sniper who came to North America to play Major Junior in Canada to show his wares.

When you watch Yakupov’s highlights on You Tube you see his low center of gravity skating style that generates unbelievable quickness and it makes you think of dynamic Russians of the past like Bure or my personal favorite Valeri Kharlamov.

Though under-sized by today’s standards at 5’11”, he has a stocky build along the lines of another blast from the past that played against Kharlamov in the 1972 Summit Series, the old “roadrunner” Yvan Cournoyer.

Then there is Yakupov’s finishing skills which can best be described as elite.

We are talking about a very special offensive dynamo.

There is another saying, “those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it”.

Back in 2003 in what is considered the deepest NHL draft in the past 30 years the Edmonton Oilers had the 17th overall pick and had the opportunity to draft a smaller skilled forward in Zach Parise -- whose father J.P. ironically played with Cournoyer against Kharlamov in the aforementioned ’72 Summit Series.

The Oilers, already with a smaller skilled forward in Mike Comrie at that time, elected to trade down and ultimately settled for Marc-Antoine Pouliot.

Pouliot, albeit a really nice fella, has been a bust as a pro while Parise has gone on to have five 30+ goal seasons in the NHL including 45 in 2008-09.

Bottom line you can never have enough skill and talent, especially in a league where goal-scoring is at such a premium.

Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini holds all the cards for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft in late June in Pittsburgh. The Oil could unquestionably parlay the #1 overall pick and obtain perhaps a pick later in the 1st round and acquire other assets that could help, say, the defence.

But personally I believe the Oilers should capitalize on their good fortune from Tuesday night and take the best player available, who from all reports is apparently Yakupov.

Obviously the Oilers will have to do their due diligence and check out Yakupov’s character as well, though I can tell you that one unnamed veteran Oilers player communicated to me that he is apparently a really good kid.

In my opinion the Oilers should use assets NOT named Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins to address areas of weakness and add Yakupov to their young trio of stars to make a quartet of rising young gunners up front.

Bob Stauffer is Radio Analyst of the Oilers Broadcasts on the Oilers Radio Network and Host of “Oilers Now” Monday thru Friday Noon to 2:00PM on 630 CHED.
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