They call it the Russian Factor, and it’s an issue amongst all NHL teams. This theory is based off the notion that Russian-born players will seek to play in their homeland instead of the NHL.
The most recent case was that of New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who opted out of his contract to play in Russia. However, we could soon see another Russian-born player make his way back to the former Soviet nation.
When the Edmonton Oilers drafted Nail Yakupov with the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, the team expected big things, but they have gotten nothing along those lines. The Russian-born winger has put up a measly 63 points in his three NHL seasons. At this point, we can safely call Yakupov a bust, but we must also use caution in that assessment as he is still only 21 years of age.
The age issue aside, Yakupov is simply not performing up to standard. It might be a mixture of things keeping him from reaching his potential. Edmonton has been bathed in mediocrity since he was drafted, and they don’t have a solid winning culture.
It could be the American game is proving to be too hard to grasp for him. There might not be a definitive answer, but something isn’t clicking.
Yakupov can choose to go play in Russia, and not only play for his country. The KHL ( Russia’s premiere hockey organization) might not have the exuberant contracts of the NHL, but it offers a chance to play at home, and like Kovalchuk before him, Yakupov could settle in Russia and forget the NHL entirely.
It was reported last October that Yakupov was mulling to return to Russia and once again play in the KHL. The forward played in for KHL’s Neftekhimik the season before debuting for the Oilers.
In 34 NHL games this season, Yakupov has recorded only 8 points; 4 goals and 4 assists. To put that in perspective, 77 defensemen have more points than Yakupov through games played on December 21st. To say that Yakupov has had a trying start to this season is an understatement.
The only wrinkle in this plan might be the KHL itself. The organization is currently falling on hard times. As the value of the ruble ( Russia’s currency system) crashed, so did its teams in the KHL. If the league can’t pay its players, then the KHL might cease to exist. While nothing is set in stone at this point, it is worth keeping an eye on.
Whatever the case may be, the thought of playing in your homeland is an opportunity many Russian NHL stars wish they could achieve. If the KHL stays afloat, it could be expected that Yakupov seeks a fresh start, leaving his NHL days behind him.