Nail Yakupov

Evgeni Malkin

Malkin, Tarasenko to play for Russia at Worlds

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Russia has significantly bolstered its lineup for the upcoming World Hockey Championships.

On Tuesday, Pittsburgh forward Evgeni Malkin and Blues sniper Vladimir Tarasenko were both locked in to represent their country when the tourney gets underway in the Czech Republic on May 1:

These are pretty significant adds for a Russian team looking to win back-to-back gold medals for the first time since 2008 and ’09. The Russians captured last year’s tournament on the strength of three KHL-based players — Viktor Tihkonov, Danis Zaripov and Sergei Plotnikov — but will be loaded with NHL talent this year; in addition to Malkin and Tarasenko, Team Russia will also feature the likes of Sergei Bobrovsky, Anton Khudobin, Nail Yakupov and, reportedly, Nikolai Kulemin.

So…what do the Oilers do now?

Craig MacTavish.
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The Edmonton Oilers have some major decisions to make.

None of those decisions will involve who they’ll draft first overall in June. After winning today’s lottery, they’ll take Connor McDavid. We’re 99.99999999 percent certain of that.

But things have definitely changed for the team with the longest active playoff drought, now nine seasons long. McDavid is ready to play in the NHL today. By all accounts, he’s ready to be a star, a la Sidney Crosby, who put up 102 points in his rookie season.

As Oilers GM Craig MacTavish put it, winning today’s lottery was “a game-changer” for his club.

Now, for the record, it’s been reported by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that MacTavish has informed forwards Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov that they will not be traded.

But one has to wonder, is that still the case? Because the Oilers weren’t counting on getting McDavid. They only entered the lottery with an 11.5 percent chance of winning. Chances were, they were going to get a player like Boston College d-man Noah Hanifin or Erie forward Dylan Strome. Two great prospects, sure. But not McDavid.

On top of Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov and (presumably) McDavid, Edmonton also has 19-year-old center Leon Draisaitl, the third overall pick in the 2014 draft.

That’s six top-six forwards, even if Draisaitl isn’t quite there yet.

It’s also three centers. Which begs the question, if MacTavish does hold true to his reported word and keeps Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, and Yakupov, could Draisaitl be an asset the Oilers would consider trading for defensive help?

Maybe, maybe not. But just so you know, here’s what MacTavish said a few days ago:

“Make no mistake, we have the assets to go out and acquire more proven players.”

And then he said this:

“Do I envision a scenario where a proven top one or two defenseman becomes available? Potentially. I think there are going to be some very unhappy teams here in the next couple of weeks. There are going to be teams that are up against a very tight salary cap, and that’s going to create an environment where they potentially could be looking to offload some high-end assets.

“We’d be in a position — because of the developing assets that we have — where we’d be able to acquire them.”

Anyway, it’s only been a few moments since the Oilers learned the good news. They’re going to need some time to think about what they want to do. The draft isn’t until June 26–27 in Sunrise, Florida.  

“We’re going to enjoy this for now,” MacTavish said today after the big win. “It’s a pretty special night for all the Oilers fans. It’s a game-changer for the franchise. I feel great for the players and I feel really good for the fans. We’ll enjoy that for an evening and then figure out how this all works going forward.”

If you’ve got any advice for MacT, please do share it in the comments section.

Of course they did: Oilers win 2015 NHL Draft Lottery, will select first overall

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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but the Edmonton Oilers will pick first overall at the draft.

That was the big story out of Toronto on Saturday night as the Oilers, who came into the lottery with an 11.5 percent chance at the No. 1 pick, won it all and will now get the top choice — for the fourth time since 2010.

It’ll also give Edmonton a shot at adding OHL Erie wunderkind Connor McDavid to a group that includes those three aforementioned No. 1 picks: Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.

While tonight’s development was euphoric for Edmonton, it was a tough blow for both Buffalo and Arizona, who finished lower in the standings than the Oilers and had better lottery odds heading into tonight. The Sabres will now select second overall and the Coyotes third, and it’s widely expected Buffalo will select Boston University sniper Jack Eichel with the No. 2 pick.

As for the rest of the draft order, it looks like this:

1. Edmonton Oilers

2. Buffalo Sabres

3. Arizona Coyotes

4. Toronto Maple Leafs

5. Carolina Hurricanes

6. New Jersey Devils

7. Philadelphia Flyers

8. Columbus Blue Jackets

9. San Jose Sharks

10. Colorado Avalanche

11. Florida Panthers

12. Dallas Stars

13. Los Angeles Kings

14. Boston Bruins

Immediately following the draft, Oilers assistant GM Bill Scott spoke with Sportsnet and wouldn’t confirm they’d be taking McDavid No. 1 overall — but all signs point to McDavid heading to Edmonton.

“We want to wait ’til we’re in Florida and make that call live,” Scott explained. “It’s a special day for that player that goes No. 1 overall, and we want him to have that moment.”

Barring some unbelievable turn of events, that player will be McDavid. He’s been tabbed as a generational talent that could turn a franchise around — just consider what his current boss, OHL Erie owner Sherry Bassin, said recently.

“I think (Barrie Colts coach) Dale Hawerchuk said it best,” Bassin explained, per Reuters. “Dale told me that Connor skates like Bobby Orr, sees the ice like Wayne Gretzky and handles the puck like Mario Lemieux.

“Anybody who knows hockey knows this is the highest of praise.”

Last week, the NHL released its final draft rankings and, to nobody’s surprise, McDavid topped the list, followed by Eichel in the No. 2 spot. Boston College d-man Noah Hanifin, McDavid’s teammate with the Otters, Dylan Strome, OHL Kingston forward Lawson Crouse and OHL London scoring sensation Mitch Marner rounded out the top six North American skaters.

The European rankings were topped by Finnish winger Mikko Rantanen. At 6-foot-3, the 18-year-old spent this season playing professionally with SM-liiga outfit TPS Turku, scoring 28 points in 56 games while serving as an alternate captain.

“Rantanen is in a class of his own at present in Europe,” NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb said. “After Mikko you can pick almost anyone for the next spots.”

MacT promises ‘very busy summer’ in Edmonton

Craig MacTavish.
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Upon being hired as Edmonton’s GM in 2013, Craig MacTavish called himself a “man of action” prepared to do “bold things” to make the Oilers better.

Two years later… well, at least he’s still on message.

“It’s going to be a very busy summer,” MacTavish said during Monday’s season-ending presser. “We’ve got to make some additions.

“Make no mistake, we have the assets to go out and acquire more proven players.”

Which begs the question — what assets?

Per Sportsnet, MacTavish has informed Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins they won’t be moved. Nail Yakupov was believed to be in that group as well, and today signed a two-year contract extension.

One would assume Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse are off the table. That leaves some less-than-enticing roster pieces available for trade… and the big ticket.

That, of course, is Edmonton’s first-round pick at the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.

The lottery goes on Saturday, with the Oilers holding an 11.5 percent chance at the first overall selection and locked into —  at worst — the No. 4 pick. While it might seem crazy to trade that high a selection in an extremely deep draft, do consider what MacTavish said back in November.

“I don’t view another first-round draft choice as what we need. Whether I can get suitable value for that remains to be seen.”

Of course, that was back in November, before Edmonton’s season went in the toilet — the thinking might’ve changed since then. But if it didn’t, MacTavish’s comments today suggest that pick could very well be in play, especially given how he thinks this summer could unfold.

“Do I envision a scenario where a proven top one or two defenseman becomes available? Potentially. I think there are going to be some very unhappy teams here in the next couple of weeks,” he explained. “There are going to be teams that are up against a very tight salary cap, and that’s going to create an environment where they potentially could be looking to offload some high-end assets.

“We’d be in a position — because of the developing assets that we have — where we’d be able to acquire them.”

Bridge built: Oilers hand Yakupov two-year, $5M extension

Edmonton Oilers v Vancouver Canucks
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Nail Yakupov and the Edmonton Oilers are at a crossroads right now, so a “bridge” contract makes some sense. The team announced that they signed the young winger to a two-year deal on Monday.

The contract is worth $5 million overall, which shapes up to be $2.5 million per season. This is an affordable compromise, and maybe the first of at least two with key young players for the Oilers, as Edmonton still must take the next step with polarizing defenseman Justin Schultz.

Yakupov, 21, had just finished the final season of his entry-level contract after being the first pick of the 2012 NHL Draft. It’s been a bumpy development process so far for the Russian forward. Plus/minus is a widely derided stat, yet it might most succinctly tell the story of how tough things have been for him at times: Yakupov is a -72 for his short career, including an all-time low of -35 in 2014-15.

That’s by no means Yakupov’s fault alone, mind you.

The biggest thing is that he’s been streaky (at best) when it comes to scoring, yet the good news is that he’s shown some improvement to close out this past season. He scored 21 points in his last 31 games versus just 12 in the first 50 games.

There’s plenty of time for a breakthrough, and if it happens, the Oilers are getting a nice (short-term) bargain.