The Edmonton Oilers went down to the wire when it came to extending 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov.
Per Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada, Yakupov — who went on a scoring streak to end the season with fourteen goals and nineteen helpers — has finally come to an agreement with the team; he’ll return next season on a two year, $2.5 M AAV bridge deal. Given his point totals on the team, the contract is on par with what other player comparables would likely have made.
Had Yakupov gone to arbitration, it’s possible he could have made the case for a bit closer to $3 M AAV — particularly given his upward scoring trend and the environment he’s been developing in — but even if he’d held out and waited to see what other teams were willing to offer, the offensively gifted winger likely wouldn’t be taking home much more than $3.25 M at most. It’s a far cry from what the team inked his two fellow first overall picks for, but the deal is a fair one.
Many were concerned that Yakupov may not be returning to Edmonton, particularly when his scoring drought early in the season left him scoreless over three separate ten game stretches. His defensive awareness leaves a lot to be desired, and he seemed to be getting as frustrated as the rest of the team by mid-season.
The biggest question moving forward, of course, is whether or not Yakupov can continue to improve on his own. The arrival of veteran center Derek Roy from Nashville served as a confidence boost for the 21-year-old forward, but it’s unlikely the team sees Roy as a part of their long-term plans. In order for Yakupov to earn a higher bid upon his contract renewal — and hopefully one with longer term — he’ll need to show that he’s developed an autonomous sense of on-ice confidence regardless of who his linemates are. He’s shown flashes of leadership and an almost infectious enthusiasm that suggest a best-case storyline for the winger down the road would be a leadership position, but failure to develop strong scoring on his own accord make him more likely to become a trade piece and long-term bust.
With Yakupov signed, the team has a number of pending free agents left to address — including mentor Derek Roy, waiver wire pick-up Matt Fraser (RFA), and two of the team’s most talked-about defensemen, Martin Marincin and Justin Schultz.