|Nail Yakupov was drafted first overall by the Oilers after much debate in the hockey world. (photo by Getty Images)
Wow, what a couple of weeks for the Edmonton Oilers!
It started with the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh.
After winning the NHL Draft Lottery in April the Oilers were poised to have the #1 overall pick for the third consecutive year.
Despite a late surge from Everett defenceman Ryan Murray, who ended up #1 overall on the scouts lists for both Columbus and the NY Islanders the Oilers made the right call and selected dynamic forward Nail Yakupov.
An electrifying offensive tour de force, the “Yak” combines with Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle to give the Oilers four legitimate offensive stars of the future.
At the Oilers Development Camp this past week Yakupov showed the style and panache that has Oil Country excited.
Based on the success of other Ontario Hockey League grads selected in the top three of the NHL Draft over the last decade there stands a pretty good chance that Yakupov will make an immediate impact for the Oilers.
From 2002 to 2011, 12 OHL forwards were taken in the top three of the NHL Draft. 11 of those 12 (Rick Nash, Eric Staal, Nathan Horton, Jordan Staal, Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, Johan Taveres, Matt Duchene, Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin and Gabriel Landeskog) stepped in and played right away in the NHL.
The only one who didn’t play in the NHL right away: Bobby Ryan, has scored 30+ goals in each of the last four seasons.
I think it can be agreed that all 12 forwards are legitimate top 6 NHL forwards.
For fans quoting the “Russian factor” with Yakupov, they have it all wrong.
What they should really be looking at are the comparisons to other OHL top-end picks over the last decade, and on that front, Yakupov measures up quite well.
|Oilers GM Steve Tambellini presents Justin Schultz with his #19 jersey. (photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club) |
The Oilers didn’t just add a young sniper up front, though, as the news got even better on Saturday when unrestricted free agent defenceman Justin Schultz signed with the Oilers.
Consider this a significant moment in Oilers history.
Edmonton out-duelled over 25 NHL organizations to secure Schultz’s rights.
It is one thing to step to the podium at the NHL Draft and announce “With the first overall pick the Edmonton Oilers are so proud to select...”
Every kid wants to go number one as you have the pick of litter.
But what happened with Schultz was an entirely different animal.
Schultz selected the Oilers!
He could have parachuted himself in and joined a team that is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender like the Vancouver Canucks.
Or Schultz could have joined his ex-Wisconsin Badger teammates Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan in New York or Jake Gardiner in Toronto.
But, ultimately, Schultz felt the Oilers were the right fit.
Consider this a positive affirmation that some people in the Hockey World recognize what the Oilers are putting together.
The 21-year-old Schultz is exactly what the Oilers need. An offensive-minded right shot defenceman who fits into the age group of the Oilers core.
In March, Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini and myself attended a Wisconsin-Denver WCHA playoff game.
At one point Tambellini said to me “Justin Schultz has a chance to be a really good NHL player.”
Who would have thought less than four months later Schultz will get that opportunity with the Oilers.
After registering double-digit goals and over 40 points each of the last two seasons with the Badgers, it goes without saying that there is a distinct possibility that the Oilers have found their power-play quarterback of the future.
And that future might be now!
SOONER RATHER THAN LATER
|Oscar Klefbom (photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC) |
Nail Yakupov hasn’t been the only Oilers prospect that has separated at the Oilers development camp as Oscar Klefbom has clearly shown he is on another level as well.
Selected 19th overall in the 2011 Draft, the 6’3”, 205 defenceman who spent the last two seasons with Farjestads in the Swedish Elite League looks like a fine young prospect.
In fact, one former NHL General Manager suggested to me that he thinks that Klefbom will be a better defenceman than Ryan Murray, and that he is stone cold mortal lock to be a top four D in the mold of a Kevin Lowe for the next decade-plus.
We know that Schultz will be in Edmonton next season, and it might be a little much to transition two rookie defencemen into the NHL in the same season, but at this stage it would surprise me if Klefbom is not in the NHL on a full-time basis for 2013-14.