Nail Yakupov

Long-term outlook for Edmonton Oilers: Free agents, prospects, and more

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Edmonton Oilers.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Is there an NHL team that boasts a better duo than Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl? What if you weigh the future, being that McDavid is 23 and Draisaitl is 24?

Of course, the Oilers pay for the luxury of a duo that carries them to competence.

Now, I’d argue that McDavid + Draisaitl is a combo worth $21M (honestly, McDavid’s probably worth nearly that much alone). Even so, the combo eats up about 25 percent of this season’s $81.5M cap ceiling. Thanks to the COVID-19 pause, it will be a chore to maintain that level, let alone bump it to $82M or higher.

When you begin paying your stars like actual stars, every mistake cuts that much deeper.

About $14.2M of the Oilers’ space will be eaten up by James Neal, retaining some of Milan Lucic‘s salary, Zack Kassian‘s extension, and the questionable Mikko Koskinen extension. Add in dead money like the Andrej Sekera buyout and the margin of error gets even smaller.

Could that force the Oilers to wave goodbye to, say, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins after 2020-21? Rather than landing a big fish in free agency, will Edmonton be stuck searching the bargain bin year after year?

There’s at least an opening to put together a more efficient defense.

Oscar Klefbom‘s had some stumbles, but he’s worthwhile as either a key defenseman or a trade chip at a reasonable $4.167M through 2022-23. Darnell Nurse received a bridge contract to keep him in the fold. Caleb Jones, Evan Bouchard, and/or Philp Broberg could help out with cheap deals through at least 2021-22.

If the Oilers fail to trade them away before their contracts run out, the $8M+ of Kris Russell and Adam Larsson goes off the books after 2020-21.

So, as time goes on, the Oilers could have a decent mix of value and youthfulness on defense. Of course, that’s if Holland makes the right moves, rather than believing too much in the likes of Mike Green.

Holland must answer: who’s going to help McDavid and Draisaitl? Will Andreas Athanasiou be part of the core? Oh yeah, and what about Jesse Puljujarvi?

Long-term needs for Oilers

Even in the optimistic situation where Koskinen persists as a 1A/1B platoon option, the Oilers still need answers in net. Mike Smith hasn’t been effective, and the pending UFA is 38. Koskinen is no spring chicken at 31.

The Oilers could enjoy a less clunky defense in the near future, but if Broberg, Nurse, and Bouchard have limited ceilings, Edmonton would still need a blue-chipper. Maybe two.

And it’s abundantly clear that the Oilers struggle to find help beyond McDavid and Draisaitl.

If there’s any area where Ken Holland can help the organization learn from sins of the past, it’s draft and development. Can they find talent beyond those high first-rounders, as the Oilers so rarely did before? Can they avoid botching development for the closest answers to the next Puljujarvi or Nail Yakupov?

Long-term strengths for Oilers

Because, the thing is, Edmonton still lucked into many key building blocks for a championship foundation.

If everything else is equal, McDavid + Draisaitl are topping most (if not all) other duos. RNH, Kailer Yamamoto, and other younger forwards can help out, just generally not enough.

And, again, help might be on its way on defense.

Through all this turmoil, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman still ranked the Oilers’ under-23 core group as the top one in the NHL back in September (sub required).

Chiarelli and even Holland dug quite a few holes for Edmonton with poor asset management, in trades and otherwise. Yet there’s still a lot to work with, and Holland could very well build a contender if he hits the right buttons.

Really, that’s what’s been frustrating about the McDavid era: you almost need to be creative to find ways to make it all not work. It’s frustrating that Taylor Hall hasn’t been there as McDavid and Draisaitl grew, but that mistake is in the past.

The Oilers can take that next step. They simply made the journey bumpier thanks to taking many wrong turns.

MORE ON THE OILERS

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Yakupov’s a little too young to take McDavid under his wing

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Compared to rookie sensation Connor McDavid, Nail Yakupov is a relative veteran of the NHL. Considering his bumpy path through three seasons, it’s no surprise that he’s uncomfortable with the idea of showing McDavid the ropes.

“I don’t think I’ll be a teacher. I’m too young for that,” Yakupov told the Edmonton Journal. “We’ve got lots of old guys to tell him things.”

Actually, judging by his interesting interview with the EJ, the 21-year-old may feel a little wistful that his substitute teachers won’t return to his side in 2015-16.

Yakupov acknowledged the chemistry he eventually developed with Derek Roy, a UFA sitting on the sidelines this summer.

“Especially a guy like Derek, who has played in the league for 10 years. He’s seen everything in the game. He could help a young kid like me,” Yakupov said. Soon as Derek got the puck, I was trying to get open for a shot.

“He gave me so much support and I was happy to be playing hockey again.”

Let’s highlight that last phrase: “I was happy to be playing hockey again.”

Just spit-balling here, but Roy could probably be had for a cheap price, and you could pair Yakupov with him for a third scoring duo outside Taylor Hall – Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Jordan Eberle. The veteran and his pupil don’t represent the same threat that those other duos pose, yet they could enjoy some success against lesser opponents.

With Yakupov also needing to adjust from one Todd (Nelson) to another (McLellan), you almost get the impression that the Russian winger got the rug taken out from underneath him.

It’s a fascinating situation to watch, as he’s still very much in a sink-or-swim phase.

Derek Roy’s agent ‘can’t believe nobody in the NHL will sign’ his client

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Derek Roy’s agent understands why his client wasn’t re-signed by the Edmonton Oilers, but he “can’t believe” that one of the other 29 NHL teams won’t give the 32-year-old forward a contract.

“When (Oilers GM) Peter Chiarelli looks down the middle, he’s pretty small there with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, (Connor) McDavid’s not that big, Derek’s not that big, especially playing in the West. But I can’t believe nobody in the NHL will sign Derek,” Rob Hooper told the Edmonton Journal.

Roy started last season with Nashville before he was traded to Edmonton in December. In 46 games with the Oilers, he had 11 goals and 11 assists while earning partial credit for Nail Yakupov’s improved production.

“I was waiting for a center for three years,” Yakupov said in March. “It’s the first time I’ve had a really good center and I’m really happy for it.

“It’s easy to play with him. He can move the puck and he’s really smart. All I have to do is try to get open for a shot.”

Though Hooper concedes it’s “been very quiet for Derek,” he believes that some of that lack of interest can be attributed to the “cap issues” facing a number of teams.

Roy’s salary was just $1 million last season.

The Next One? Oilers take McDavid first overall

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SUNRISE — On Friday night, the Oilers cashed their winning lottery ticket.

Edmonton did the expected to open the 2015 NHL Entry Draft at the BB&T Center, picking OHL Erie wunderkind Connor McDavid with the first overall selection.

In McDavid, Edmonton gets a franchise center that’s routinely drawn comparisons to Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby. McDavid dominated the OHL this season and went on an amazing run during the playoffs, scoring an eye-bulging 21 goals and 49 points in 20 games and put together a highlight reel of goals.

The Oilers won the right to draft McDavid — dubbed a “generational talent” — after winning April’s NHL draft lottery. It marked the fourth time in six years the Oilers earned the right to pick first; previously, they drafted Taylor Hall in 2010, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011 and Nail Yakupov in 2012.

A dynamic player with elite-level skill and speed, it’s expected that McDavid will make an immediate impact in Edmonton next season — and the Oilers will need it. The club has struggled mightily over the last 10 years, failing to make the playoffs while struggling through a number of regime changes.

But the McDavid selection caps off what’s been a summer of transformation. There’s a new GM (Peter Chiarelli), a new head coach (Todd McLellan) and new hope for an organization that hasn’t been to the playoffs in an awfully long time.

Click here to read PHT’s McDavid draft profile.

‘Very quiet’ on Derek Roy-Edmonton front, says agent

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Not a huge surprise, but there hasn’t been much contract talk between Derek Roy and the Edmonton Oilers.

“Nothing to report,” Roy’s agent, Rob Hooper, told PHT on Wednesday. “Very quiet to date.”

It’s easy to understand why. Few teams have undergone more front office changes than Edmonton this offseason — Bob Nicholson was brought in as CEO, Peter Chiarelli was hired as GM and former Sharks bench boss Todd McLellan became the team’s new head coach.

So it stands to reason that, with all this changeover, Edmonton’s decision-makers haven’t had a ton of time to reach out to free agents. With that said, it’ll be interesting to see how the conversation goes once — or, if — they reach out to Roy.

The 32-year-old did enjoy a bounce-back campaign after getting traded to the Oilers in late December. Roy scored 11 goals and 22 points in 46 games, averaged nearly 17 minutes per night and developed some good chemistry with Nail Yakupov, who assisted on eight of Roy’s markers.

“I was waiting for a center for three years,” Yakupov said of playing with Roy, per the Edmonton Sun. “It’s the first time I’ve had a really good center and I’m really happy for it.

“It took us a couple of games to get used to each other and now we’re pretty comfortable. It’s easy to play with him. He can move the puck and he’s really smart. All I have to do is try to get open for a shot.”

Of course, all of this occurred under the Oilers’ old regime. Roy was acquired by now-assistant GM Craig MacTavish — it’s still unclear how big a role he’ll have under Chiarelli — and thrived playing for interim head coach Todd Nelson, who will reportedly explore other head coaching gigs now that McLellan is aboard.

Roy’s efforts also came prior to Edmonton winning the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery, which meant winning the rights to OHL Erie superstar Connor McDavid — who, like Roy, plays center. Edmonton also has 19-year-old center Leon Draisaitl, currently starring with WHL Kelowna at the Memorial Cup, looking to get back to the NHL next year.

Should he head to free agency, Roy would be in a class loaded with veterans. It would be curious to see how much his mini-revival with Edmonton sparked interest league-wide, especially after disappointing stints in St. Louis and Nashville.