It’s finally happened, Nail Yakupov has gone back to Russia. After years of struggling to find his game in the NHL, bouncing around between a few cities and roles, the 2012 first-overall pick has signed a one-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL. We wrote about this option last summer before Yakupov signed a one-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche, a team that he played just 58 games for last season.
Yakupov, 24, broke onto the NHL scene with a splash, scoring 17 goals and 31 points in his rookie season—a year that was lockout shortened and only lasted 48 games. With that, it looked like the young Russian forward was on track for a tremendous career that would see him grow into a dominant offensive weapon. Unfortunately, that’s not at all what happened. Yakupov regressed heavily in his next season, and never topped the 17 goals he scored as a rookie. He left Edmonton after just four seasons, and couldn’t find a full-time role in St. Louis. Last year for Colorado he was a useful part-time player, but didn’t come anywhere close to living up to the hefty expectations that came with being the first-overall pick.
Armed with all the physical skills to make it in the NHL, something failed to clicked for Yakupov and his effort level waned at times. While he’s now headed back to Russia, by no means does this mean his career in North America is over. If he can find his game with SKA and round out his defensive capabilities, there’s no telling how quickly he could return to the NHL for another chance. The Avalanche gave up his rights by failing to extend a qualifying offer, meaning he could sign with any team next summer. Since he’s still relatively young, you can bet there will be someone who wants to take another chance on him down the road. For now, he’ll try to learn from some of the best in Russia like Pavel Datsyuk, Sergei Plotnikov and Nikita Gusev.