The Edmonton Oilers announced Monday the re-signing of Nail Yakupov to a two-year, $5 million contract. If Yakupov’s game continues to improve as it has since the all-star break, his new deal could look brilliant by the final year of the pact.
The Edmonton Oilers aren’t ready to give up on Nail Yakupov just yet. The club put their good faith in the 2012 draft’s first overall selection on display Monday afternoon inking Yakupov to a two-year, $5 million extension.
In 81 games this season, the 21-year-old scored 14 goals and 33 points on an Oilers team that once again sunk to the bottom of the standings. While he has had his detractors since entering the league as an 18-year-old, Yakupov showed some promise in his second 82-game campaign.
Yakupov’s deal, a bridge contract that will keep him locked up until the culmination of Edmonton’s 2016-17 season, gives the Oilers the chance to continue to watch over his development before deciding whether or not they want to buy in long-term. And, should Yakupov break out in the next two seasons, it will allow Edmonton to have a better sense of what their financial situation looks like while still retaining rights to Yakupov as a restricted free agent.
Though he has long been the subject of trade rumors in Edmonton, there’s little reason for the Oilers to even consider moving Yakupov now that they’ve been able to get him under contract at good value. Yakupov’s cap hit will be $2.5 million in each of the next two seasons and the Oilers have flexibility under the cap.
While some may question whether or not Yakupov was even deserving of a new deal in Edmonton, his improvement in the second half of the season should be enough to quiet his doubters.
Pre-all-star break, Yakupov was taking nearly 21 percent more starts in the offensive zone at 5-on-5 than his teammates. In the second half of the campaign, post-all-star break, Yakupov took only 6.8 percent more offensive zone starts than teammates.
The expectation, especially with Yakupov’s reputation as a poor defender and pure offensive player, would then be Yakupov fared poorly on the defensive side of the puck and his offense struggled. Instead, according to War-On-Ice, Yakupov actually increased his shot attempts for per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 and improved his relative shot attempts for percentage from an abysmal -4.4 percent pre-break to -0.1 post-break.
In addition, pre-break Yakupov was allowing 4.5 percent more scoring chances against than teammates. Following the all-star break, his play was equal with that of his teammates. While in Edmonton his play being on par with teammates on a basement club might be cause for some to say he’s still not playing well, the vast improvement in his underlying statistics coupled with his decrease in offensive zone starts shows that there is good reason to be high on Yakupov’s second half.
Even in base statistics, Yakupov’s second half was impressive. He notched nine goals and 21 points in his final 34 games of the season, tying him with stars like Marian Gaborik, Bobby Ryan and Paul Stastny. His 21 points were actually one more than Ryan Getzlaf tallied, though Getzlaf played three fewer games.
Much of the uptick in production is thanks to Yakupov finding consistent linemates in Derek Roy, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent, and Teddy Purcell. Playing the wing alongside Roy and Purcell provided some help defensively for the offensively gifted Yakupov allowing him to use his skillset to the best of his ability and give him support when the puck got into Oilers territory.
If Yakupov continues to improve, the two-year deal looks like a brilliant low-risk, high-reward move that will lead to a richer deal for Yakupov next time around. If Yakupov’s development is stunted, the contract also makes him easy to trade. What the future holds for Yakupov is now up to him.