This is an honest inquiry that I’ve been thinking about for the last 12 hours or so. It’s not a trade rumor. It’s not a conversation that either the Los Angeles Kings or Edmonton Oilers have reportedly engaged in. This is a question that simply intrigues me.
If you were an NHL General Manager, which player would you rather have: Tyler Toffoli or Nail Yakupov
This came to mind as Toffoli buried his third goal against the Calgary Flames to notch his first career hat trick on February 12. In the closest thing to a must-win game as there can be in early February, the 22-year-old scored a trio of goals for the defending Stanley Cup champion.
The Flames entered the contest five points ahead of the Kings in the air-tight Wild Card race in the Western Conference. Calgary holds the second slot, while Los Angeles needs to jump the Minnesota Wild and Flames to secure the right to defend their title.
With the game tied heading into the third period, Toffoli and the new-look “That 70s Line” took over. They seemed to be on the ice constantly, and the Flames couldn’t handle their speed or precision. The third goal—and the nail in the coffin goal—is all the proof you need.
Toffoli is third on the team in scoring, trailing only bona fide stars Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar in production. No one on the squad has scored more goals than Toffoli—including noted snipers Carter and Marian Gaborik—and he’s produced like this despite only averaging 14 minutes of ice time each night.
If we’re looking at the Yakupov vs Toffoli debate from a current production standpoint, it’s not even close. The Kings 47th-round pick from 2010 is out producing Edmonton’s first-overall pick from 2012 by 19 points and is typically in the good graces of his coach.
The same can’t be said for Yakupov.
He’s gone 10-plus games between goals on three separate occasions this season, which is bad news considering goal scoring is supposed to be his thing. He was drafted by the Oilers to be the finisher for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who was drafted at first overall a year before Yakupov.
Things started off well enough for “Yak.” He notched 17 goals in 48 games as a rookie, and the Oilers seemed to have one of the NHL’s top rising goal scorers on their roster.
There’s no need to rehash history too much here. We all know what’s happened since then. Yakupov has been accosted for his lack of defensive play and been a healthy scratch a handful of times.
Your answer to this question depends on how much you value pedigree. If you like Yakupov and would take him on your team, you obviously value the fact that he was a first-overall pick and is hypothetically capable of much more out on the ice.
It’s also likely that you believe that Toffoli is outplaying his billing and due for a recession.
If you’re on the other side of the fence and you’d pass on Yakupov to take Toffoli, you probably don’t care too much about what the former is supposed to be doing. You don’t buy into the idea that the Oilers have negatively impacted Yakupov’s development simply by being terrible, instead going with the player that has a proven track record of production at the NHL level.
First career hat trick for Toffoli. Thinking it won't be the last.
— Helene Elliott (@helenenothelen) February 13, 2015
Comparing these two players is fun because of all the different gears that are turning. It forces you to think about how a team can impact a player’s development. Is Yakupov bad because the Oilers are bad? Is Tofolli good because the Kings are good? What would happen if you switched their places? It’s tough to imagine Tofolli pushing 30 goals on the Oilers, where the current leading scorer (Jordan Eberle) is projected to finish with 22 tallies.
Los Angeles has four players (including Toffoli) that are projected to finish with more goals than Eberle, just to illustrate the offensive gap between the two clubs.
Toffoli isn’t going anywhere. He’s going to be part of the Kings’ core for a long while. The same can’t be the same for Yakupov, who could end up as an interesting trade chip as Edmonton (hopefully) goes searching for help on the blue line.
I’ve said my piece. Now it’s your turn to chime in. Get onboard down in the comments and let’s come to a consensus.