In the days leading up to the 2012 NHL draft, there wasn’t much talk about who would go first. Nail Yakupov was the consensus best-player available, and the Edmonton Oilers didn’t think twice before grabbing the scoring phenom with the top pick. Perhaps they should have.
One rough patch doesn’t typically define a career—especially not a young one—but so far Alex Galchenyuk has cleanly outplayed his draft counterpart in Yakupov. The Montreal Canadiens have gone from basement dwellers to playoff team since the 2012 draft. Meanwhile the Oilers are still among the NHL’s worst squads.
That’s hardly Yakupov’s fault. Goaltending and defense appear to be the issues in Edmonton. Yet there’s a sneaking feeling that Edmonton might have picked up a bit of a diva that requires some extra attention in Yakupov. He’s been in the news often this season, but only as rumored trade bate and as a scratch-able forward for the Oilers.
He finally scored his first goal of the season on Sunday and that might get him going after a dreadful 12-game scoring drought to open the season. While the media has focused much of its attention of Yakupov and his failure to be an impact player, Galchenyuk has posted two goals and added seven assists.
He’s a plus-four on the season, and seems to be ironing out his game in all three zones. Is that the main difference between these two ultra-skilled players? Galchenyuk doesn’t have to be finding the back of the net to feel effective at this stage of his career. His vision is outstanding and he’s a work in progress in the neutral zone.
In other words, he’s not invisible when he’s not scoring. His mood on a particular night doesn’t have an impact on his game.
Yakupov is invisible when he’s not in the offensive zone. He reminds us a bit of an earlier version of Alex Ovechkin in the defensive zone. He hovers and waits for the offensive part of the game to happen. Until then he just seems disinterested in what’s happening on the ice. The Oilers would likely let that slide a bit more if he had 10 goals on the season.
He doesn’t. Not even close. And so the struggle continues.
Where these two players end up throughout the course of their careers is anybodies guess. Right now though, the early advantage has to go to Galchenyuk and his slow and steady approach to development. This will be interesting to revisit in six months though. There’s no denying that Yakupov has game-breaking talent. Galchenyuk has a bit of that too though.