When George McPhee traded Semyon Varlamov to Colorado in early July, not only did he gain the roster flexibility to sign Vezina-hopeful Tomas Vokoun to a discounted one-year pact, he also netted two valuable assets from the Avalanche: a first-round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and a second-round selection in either 2012 or 2013.
In a year’s time, Colorado could seriously regret this deal. Why? With two injury-prone goalies in Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and an offense that has few proven scorers, the Avalanche could fall into the lottery or possibly even finish dead-last in the West. That would give the Capitals a chance to pick in the top five for the first time in five years (they nabbed Karl Alzner fifth overall in 2007). It also presents McPhee and company with a shot at bringing a new Russian superstar to DC. His name: Nail Yakupov.
Let’s get you caught up. Yakupov was selected second overall by the Sarnia Sting in the 2010 Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Import Draft. Before this, he played in the Russian junior league (MHL) for his hometown team, Reaktor Nizhnekamsk. Instead of biding his time and trying his luck in the KHL with Reaktor’s parent-team, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, Nail thought joining the Ontario Hockey League would be a quicker path to his dream to play in the National Hockey League.
So far, his decision looks to have paid off. Yakupov is currently ranked number one in the vast majority of prospect rankings, though it’s still too early to make any stone-cold predictions for next year. However, many analysts say that Yakupov “has it all” and will surely go number one come draft time in 2012.
In his first year with the Sting, the 17-year-old 5′ 11″ 167 lb. winger was named the OHL’s Rookie of the Month three times. He also broke records previously set by current NHL superstar Steven Stamkos. At the same age, Stamkos posted 42 goals and 92 points. Nail finished his season with 49 goals and 101 points, winning both the OHL and CHL’s Rookie of the Year awards.
For those of you who have never seen him play, here’s a video — with glorious techno music of course — of Yakupov dominating in the OHL:
Wow. After watching this, it’s hard to disagree with the praise Nail’s earned from HockeyProspect:
Maybe the easiest way to compare Nail Yakupov is a smaller version of Alexander Ovechkin. Although it is extremely unlikely for Nail to reach Alexander’s 6’3” 225lb size, he plays a very similar game and has a great number of similar traits.
Travis Yost, HockeyBuzz’s Senators and OHL blogger, agrees:
With as much strength as there is at the top of the draft, the Washington Capitals have to be absolutely salivating. In a best case scenario, imagine that the Avalanche completely tank, and the Capitals go and grab the venerable Nail Yakupov from the Sarnia Sting.
By all accounts, Yakupov is already NHL ready and could hit the National Hockey League as a blue-chip. You know, the ‘can’t-miss’ prospect that’s sure to dominate the league for years and years to come.
A player of his talent could single-handedly marginalize the probable loss of Alexander Semin, who should be in another hockey city come 2012. And, you’d have to imagine Yakupov would love playing alongside one of his country’s most respected and heralded players in Alexander Ovechkin.
Despite his limited size and Russian hockey education, Yakupov is not a complete liability on defense. He also can play both wings — just like fellow Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov. He’s also not afraid to mix it up.
Or check someone through the glass.
So, Caps fans, let’s hope for an awful season from the Avs this year. I truly believe Nail Yakupov is a superstar in the making, a perfect player to compliment Ovechkin and eventually replace an expensive — and possibly declining — Alex Semin on the second line. And really, it’s nothing personal, Colorado. You’ve won your championships. You have your banners. Now it’s time for the Caps to have some good luck!
Additional reporting by Ian Oland.