Your boy Perogy is back in the saddle with a look at a few more young unrestricted free agents on whom the Canucks would be wise to place buy-low bets. I’m assuming buy now that you’ve already read part one, so I’ll spare the preamble. Let’s get into it!
Even with all the advancements in statistics and player tracking, the NHL still struggles to evaluate defensemen. Nikita Nesterov going unqualified is yet another piece of anecdotal evidence that lends credence to the idea that many NHL GMs are still struggling to adapt to a changing game.
Nesterov had been the odd-man out in Tampa Bay for parts of three seasons, and with the expansion draft looming a trade made sense from the Lightning’s perspective, even if the return was less than thrilling. What makes less sense is why the Montreal Canadiens would let him walk for nothing when their blueline is already so thin.
The Habs’ loss could easily be the Canucks’ gain, however. The team desperately lacks young puck-movers on the back-end and Nesterov fits the bill. He’s improved slowly over the last few years to the point where he looks like he could be a legitimate top-four defender if given the opportunity to play big minutes.
The Canucks went all-in on skilled forwards at this year’s draft, which has left their prospect depth at defense looking a little barren, with only Olli Juolevi looking like the only good bet to be an impact NHLer. Nesterov would instantly be one of the team’s most promising young defenders alongside Troy Stecher and Ben Hutton, and help alleviate some of the pressure on the blue line that’s come as a result of Nikita Tryamkin’s departure.
Unlike the other players on this list, Ty Rattie has a very small NHL resumé: just 35 NHL games, over the course of which he scored ten points. That’s not half bad for a player that averaged under ten minutes a night. His 1.99 p/60 put him 56th among forwards with at least 50 minutes of time-on-ice since 2014. That puts him just above Mark Scheifele, albeit in a miniscule sample size.
While he hasn’t gotten a lot of chances to show what he can do at the NHL level, when he he’s played, he’s done nothing to suggest he isn’t an NHL-calibre player. He’s scored at a decent clip, kept his head above water in terms of possession, and hasn’t been massively outscored when he’s been on the ice, either.
Much like Grigorenko, taking a flier on Rattie would be like adding a free prospect at little cost. The difference here is that Rattie has actually produced like a player with offensive upside during his brief stints in the NHL. He’s also got ties to the organization now, too. During his time with the Portland Winterhawks, Rattie played alongside Sven Baertschi, while new Canucks bench boss Travis Green served as an assistant coach.
Patrick Wiercioch is another unfairly maligned former Avalanche player who was made to appear worse than he is by playing on an abysmal team.
Wiercioch actually had a very impressive start to the season, scoring eight points in his first 16 games. But like most of the Avalanche’s roster, he limped towards the finish line and failed to produce towards the end of the season.
Wiercioch’s numbers have taken a dip over the past year, but that has more to do with falling out of favour in Ottawa and ending up on a truly sub-par Avalanche team than it does with Wiercioch’s play. For most of his career, Wiercioch has put up underlying numbers consistent with an average second-pairing defender. Wiecioch’s biggest issue is that his biggest asset -driving shot attempts- isn’t obviously useful if he or his teammates aren’t converting those shots into goals, something the Avs struggled to do all season.
While Wiercioch isn’t the most interesting player on the market, he does have something a lot of these so-called “reclamation projects” don’t have: a legitmate NHL resumé. At just 26, Wiercioch is already a seasoned veteran who could help keep the Canucks’ blueline steady while they wait for the next wave.
Is there any player in the league that better exemplifies the idea of a reclamation project than Nail Yakupov? I lean towards no. Once thought of as a can’t-miss prospect, Yakupov has become one of the most legitimately perplexing forwards in the NHL.
I think sometimes people forget just how good Nail Yakupov looked in the early stages of his career. He had one of the best draft-1 seasons in modern OHL history, scoring 101 points in 65 games and following that up with a solid 42-game 69-point draft-year campaign.
Then, upon entering the NHL in the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season, Yakupov scored at a torrid pace, scoring 31 points in 48 games, and looked to be well on his way to becoming a high-end first-line winger. Sure, he shot at a gaudy 21%, but you expect a player’s shot totals to come up with time. But they never really did.
Since then, he’s been on a slow decline, and the last two seasons he’s been legitimately bad. Like, sub-replacement-level bad. For the past two seasons, Yakupov’s underlying numbers have been truly ugly.
It feels like such a cliché to say this, but Yakupov has really done nothing to earn a spot in an NHL lineup over the past season or two. Whichever team that sings him will be doing so with the hopes that he can finally live up to the potential he showed as a rookie, not based on anything he’s achieved recently. That’s not a good sign. Draft position really shouldn’t play into decision-making, because it’s completely out of the player’s control.
It’s hard to know just what exactly went wrong with Yakupov. It could be that he was rushed, it could be the result of a tumultuous first few years in Edmonton where he went through several coaches in a short timespan, or it could just be the result of generally poor development. What’s encouraging is that Yakupov did produce when he was put in a position to succeed. The question is whether or not his upside is worth absolutely needing to play him with very good players. Especially when he’s done everything to suggest that he’s incapable of driving the bus on whichever line he finds himself on.
The best case scenario for Yakupov at this point is for him to become a high-end passenger. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not something you build a team around. That doesn’t mean the Canucks should stay away, though. Yakupov is going to come very cheap and you just don’t come across that type of talent on the open market very often.
While deeply flawed as a player, Yakupov does bring an element that the Canucks are lacking. I just wouldn’t expect him to develop into a first-line winger anymore. At 23 years old, he’s veering dangerously close to “he is what he is” territory, and what he’s been so far is pretty pedestrian.
Still, the Canucks are in a position to take risks, and the payoff for signing Yakupov could be a big one, so if the reports that Nail is interested in signing with Vancouver are true, the Canucks should absolutely bite. I just wouldn’t take the over on his production next season.