Nail Yakupov leads all NHL rookies in scoring

Jonathan Willis
April 28 2013 01:14PM

For the second consecutive season, an Edmonton Oiler is tied for the rookie scoring lead in the NHL. This time, it’s Nail Yakupov, who scored a hat-trick in Edmonton’s final game to tie Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau with 31 points. Additionally, with 17 goals Yakupov sits alone at the top of the rookie goal-scoring charts.

The NHL’s schedule is almost finished, with Ottawa playing Boston tonight. The Senators’ Cory Conacher has 11 goals and 28 points, so with a four-point night he could move into the scoring lead, but right now the smart money is that Yakupov and Huberdeau will end up co-scoring leaders among rookies.

Yakupov’s Sensational Stretch

As Bob Stauffer points out this morning, Yakupov has been on an unbelievable tear of late, even as the team has (mostly) struggled around him.

Yakupov’s assist rate over both this most recent run and from the beginning of the year is basically unchanged; he posted 0.29 assists per game over his first 34 and 0.29 assists per game over his last 14. What has changed is his shooting – he’s gone from firing 1.4 shots per game to 2.4 shots per game. By eye he’s been a much better player all over the ice during this last stretch, and I think this helps confirm that in that he’s finally starting to generate shots in volume.

Also spiking was shooting percentage; after a 12.5 percent run over his first 34 games, he’s scored 11 times on 33 shots for a 33.3 percent shooting number. He’s now at 21.0 percent on the season, a number which is almost certainly too good to be true. However, the possibility at least should be considered that Yakupov could be a truly elite shooting percentage player (15.0%+) – we don’t have his shooting percentage from junior, but we know he was a better goal-scorer than Taylor Hall and a much better goal-scorer than Jordan Eberle at the same points in their careers. Of all the things that make Nail Yakupov a fantastic prospect, his shot stands out as something that is a high-end NHL weapon in the here and now; it’s just a matter of the rest of his game catching up to it.

Everything has been catching up; it’s a process but his growth as a player is undeniable. Criag MacTavish raved about his development on After Hours last night and particularly highlighted Yakupov’s willingness to put extra work in. That kind of skill married to that kind of work ethic make him a very special player.

Award Possibilities

Yakupov’s strong run over the late season has moved him into the conversation for the Calder Trophy. I think he ultimately finishes as a finalist rather than the winner simply because Jonas Brodin has been such a revelation on the Minnesota blue line. Over a full season, that might be different because the learning curve for Yakupov was steep in the early going and he hasn’t had a lot of time to make up for it, but over a shortened year I think he falls just short.

He should be on the all-rookie team, though. The three forwards on that squad will doubltess come from the group of six with 27+ points: Yakupov, Huberdeau, Conacher, Brendan Galalgher, Brandon Saad and Alex Galchenyuk. The defenders seem obvious – Brodin and Justin Schultz – and while there are three possibles for the goaltender honours Ottawa’s Robin Lehner seems the logical choice.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.