Blackhawks Rumors

Chicago Blackhawks, Nail Yakupov Could Be Trade Match

By Colin Likas
Sep 26, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers right wing Nail Yakupov (10) skates during the warmup period against the Calgary Flames during a preseason hockey game at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers right wing Nail Yakupov (10) skates during the warmup period against the Calgary Flames during a preseason hockey game at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Chicago Blackhawks are reportedly expressing interest in young forward Nail Yakupov

So I work on a post about the Chicago Blackhawks’ possible line combinations heading into opening night, and general manager Stan Bowman decides to throw a wrench into the operation. Admittedly, however, it’s a wrench I don’t mind.

Early this afternoon, Twitter picked up on news that the Blackhawks reportedly were nearing a deal with Edmonton for former first-round pick Nail Yakupov.

Setting aside who the “surprise” Blackhawk involved might be, let’s first talk about Yakupov and the feasibility of such a deal for Chicago.

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Getting to know Nail Yakupov

Yakupov was the 2012 first-overall pick of the Edmonton Oilers. He hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations that would be bestowed upon a No. 1 pick, tallying 111 points in 252 games across four NHL seasons.

He’s maxed out at 33 points so far (in 2014-15) while also posting as bad as a minus-35 rating (in the same season). However, the Oilers have also given him quite the runaround since drafting him, essentially throwing him all over the place, scratching him and searching for trades. The media in Edmonton hasn’t done much to aid Yakupov’s image (though that’s not the media’s job).

Hockey’s Future describes Yakupov as “a pure goal-scorer with great hands, quick feet, and great natural hockey sense.” That fits the Blackhawks’ offensive mold pretty well. Yakupov also checks in at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, so size-wise, he’s also a good fit.

Yakupov, 23, is currently in the final year of a contract that is due to give him $2.5 million. As far as how the Blackhawks would fit this into their salary cap-strapped situation, the roster is far from set right now. So it’s pretty clear Bowman wouldn’t even consider this move if the Blackhawks didn’t have a plan to fit Yakupov under the cap.

What could go the other way?

This is the bigger question at this point, especially with the above tweet about a “surprise” Blackhawk being involved.

The first name that started circulating was Mark McNeill. He is a former first-round pick as well, though in the 2011 draft. And McNeill hasn’t gotten nearly the NHL experience as Yakupov, playing in a throwaway debut game last season.

But McNeill probably has some untapped potential, and Edmonton may like to exploit that. This move would make sense for Chicago because, should McNeill not make the opening night roster (and talk of him being traded would indicate he’s far off that path), his time in the organization is pretty limited. The Blackhawks would’ve been looking to move him regardless.

The Blackhawks could potentially move a defenseman as well, since Yakupov for McNeill is not a realistic straight-up trade. Edmonton has made some silly trades in recent seasons, but not that silly.

Maybe the surprise is Trevor van Riemsdyk moving, as an ultimate vote of confidence to Gustav Forsling and other blueliners in the system. Viktor Svedberg‘s name has also been tossed around, though he’s not in line to make the opening night roster like TVR is.

Other fringe forwards like Ryan Hartman and Andrew Desjardins could also be targets, as could guys who haven’t made their NHL debut yet. What we can pretty confidently is the Oilers will be taking more guys back in this trade than the Blackhawks will be acquiring.

What does this mean for the Blackhawks?

Well, not much yet. Once the deal gets done — assuming it gets done — then we can talk about how Yakupov fits into the starting lineup. Because he would be brought in to be a starter, not to play behind Brandon Mashinter and Jordin Tootoo in the lineup.

However, it does tell us one thing: The Blackhawks aren’t entirely confident they can fill all their forward holes with youngsters already in the system. While Alexandre Fortin, Nick Schmaltz and Tyler Motte have impressed, as have Hartman and Vincent Hinostroza in spots, Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville are searching for more experience.

That’s interesting, though, because …

But, hey, if Bowman thinks he has a way to make the current Blackhawks better and improve their Stanley Cup window with the core still intact, then you take that shot (depending on the price, of course).

We’ll see how this all plays out, as a deal doesn’t necessarily have to get done today. However, it sounds like we’re close to Nail Yakupov becoming a Chicago Blackhawk.

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