News broke this week that Nail Yakupov has asked the Oilers to trade him. That’s probably not devastating news for Edmonton fans, most of whom have soured on the unproductive winger. Four years after being taken with the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, there’s little question that Yakupov is dangerously close to settling into bust territory.
But there’s good news for the Oilers. Trading a disappointing first overall pick is far from unprecedented. And in fact, history tells us that it’s even possible to extract some value from the deal. So let’s look back on five times in NHL history that a first overall bust was dealt a few years into their career, how those trades worked out, and what lessons the Oilers might be able to learn from them.
Brian Lawton, Minnesota North Stars
The bust: In 1983, the North Stars made Lawton the first ever American to be taken with the top pick. Among the players they passed on were another American, Pat LaFontaine, as well as a pair of decent Canadians in Steve Yzerman and Cam Neely. Lawton managed just one 20-goal season with the Stars, and never topped 50 points.
The trade: Days into the 1988-89 season, the Stars sent Lawton, Igor Liba and prospect Rick Bennett to the Rangers for Mark Tinordi, Paul Jerrard, Mike Sullivan, Bret Barnett and a third round choice.
The aftermath: Lawton didn’t last long in New York, appearing in just 30 games before he was on the move again, although in fairness that was five games more than Liba and Bennett would have in New York combined. In December, the Rangers packaged him with Don Maloney and Norm MacIver and sent him to the Whalers for Carey Wilson and a draft pick. (Ironically, the Whalers had owned the second pick in that 1983 draft, and had also passed on those future Hall of Famers, opting for a quasi-bust of their own in Sylvain Turgeon.)
Lawton bounced around with four more teams before his NHL career ended in 1993; he’d go on to become a player agent, and also had a stint as the Lightning GM.
While the pick was a painful miss for the North Stars, the Lawton trade worked out fairly well. Jerrard, Sullivan and Barnett combined for just five games in Minnesota, but Tinordi filled a regular role on the blueline until the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993. He went on to have a son who was so good that Maloney himself would trade away an all-star captain just to acquire him.
Lesson for the Oilers: While missing on a first overall pick is never fun, it is possible to salvage at least some value out of the eventual trade – assuming you move fast enough.