a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

07/24/12 Can Yakupov Score 30?

It's hard not to look at a young Russian first overall pick and think: Alex Ovechkin. Ilya Kovalchuk. These are some of the most prolific scorers in the NHL today, but only Kovalchuk scored 30 before his 20th birthday, and that 2002-03 season was his second. Can Yakupov accomplish the feat as a 19 year old rookie?

Of course there's no way to know how many goals Yakupov will score until he reaches the NHL, but we can look at a few comparable players, his NHL equivalency, and scoring trends to help guess at the answer.

From 2006 to 2011 eight players have been drafted in the top five selections out of the OHL:  Gabriel Landeskog, Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares, Matt Duchene, Steve Stamkos, Patrick Kane, and Jordan Staal. Ryan Strome is in this group as well, but has yet to play an NHL game. Together those players averaged 0.77 goals per game in their last year in the OHL, and slipped to an average of 0.28 per game in their rookie NHL seasons. Over an 82 game stretch, that's about 23 goals. Yakupov scored 0.74 goals per game in Sarnia this past season.

Granted, this is a very small sample size, but these are some of the best draft-eligible OHL scorers since the lockout who transitioned directly to the NHL, and the whole group had difficulty translating all of that scoring to the show. None of them scored more than Jordan Staal's 29 goals, but he shot at 22.1% and has yet to reach those heights again.

Over at OilersNation, Lowetide recently looked at the NHL equivalencies of the Oilers' young forwards and found that Yakupov's NHLE is 18 goals, 22 assists, and 40 points. However, both previous first overall picks Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins outperformed their NHLE points. So did Landeskog, Tavares, Duchene, Stamkos, Kane, and Staal to varying degrees. What's more, Yakupov will be joining a better team than all of the Oilers' previous young stars did as rookies.

On the other hand, only five NHL rookies have scored 30 goals since the lockout, and only two of them were younger than 20. Since 1974-75 only 16 players under age 20 have scored 30 goals as rookies.

Oilers fans can take heart from Jeff Skinner, who was an OHL forward and one of the two rookies under 20 who scored 30 goals since the lockout. The other was Sidney Crosby, which is an unrealistic comparison for any young player, but Skinner's scoring prowess proves that you don't have to be the best player in the league to do it.

It's possible that Yakupov could join that very select group next season, but he'll face an uphill battle. He'll be part of a team that should be quite offensively gifted, and has powerplay whiz Nugent-Hopkins in the fold, which should help matters along. The trouble with being a rookie is that they generally go from a featured scoring role in junior to a sheltered support player in a much tougher league. The same may hold true for Yakupov, especially with the depth the Oilers have up front.

In conclusion: numbers are boring. Yakupov is going to walk in and score 35 goals because it feels like he could. The end.

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