It’s really hard to mess up having the No. 1 overall draft pick in the NHL draft.
The list of players who have been taken with the first choice reads like a who’s who in the sport. Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews look like superstars. John Tavares, Steven Stamkos, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, Joe Thornton, Alex Ovechkin and Rick Nash are among the current players who have defined the game. And going back, Eric Lindros, Mario Lemieux, Dale Hawerchuk, Denis Potvin and Guy Lafleur are among the Hall of Famers taken No. 1.
Even the recent choices who haven’t turned out to be superstars are all solid NHL players. Names like Nathan MacKinnon, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Erik Johnson and Marc-Andre Fleury have been good to great in the league, and the first three have room to continue growing.
And then there’s Nail Yakupov.
Blue Jackets fans once cried “Fail for Nail” in hopes of being able to draft the net-filling dynamo from the Sarnia Sting. Columbus was dead last in the NHL with 65 points in 2011-12 (it wasn’t even particularly close; Edmonton was next with 74) and had the best chance at the No. 1 overall pick.
Of course, Edmonton won the lottery, dropping Columbus to No. 2. Yakupov belonged to the Oilers.
Fast-forward five years and he belongs to St. Louis, and that might not even last long as he’s a restricted free agent. Just 23, he had a paltry three goals and six assists in 40 games. Clearly, it’s now a fail for Nail.
So I told you that story to tell you this one.
The No. 2 overall pick is nearly the equal of No. 1 when it comes to guys who have gone on to significant NHL careers. The last two, Jack Eichel and Patrik Laine, look as much like future stars as McDavid and Matthews. Names like Tyler Seguin, Victor Hedman, Drew Doughty, Bobby Ryan, Evgeni Malkin, Eric Stall and Jason Spezza have been big-time NHL players. And the washout rate – there’s a handful of Kari Lehtonens, Andrei Zyuzins and Dave Chyzowskis on the list – is about the same.
Which brings us to Ryan Murray.
I’m certainly not here to say Murray is a bust. He’s repeatedly seen his development hurt by injuries, and even when on the ice he’s shown to be a legitimate NHL player.
At the same time, when the Jackets had the No. 2 pick in that 2012 draft, it’s likely true they didn’t pick Murray thinking they were getting a third-pair defenseman, which is what he was a year ago.
Part of that is because the people around him shined. Zach Werenski and Seth Jones, both of whom are fellow top-10 picks who joined the Jackets much more recently than Murray, combined to be a dynamic pair that could be dominant for years. The duo of Jack Johnson and David Savard proved to be adept at both driving offensive play and putting up good defensive numbers on the second pair. That left Murray to be a third liner when he likely could have fit on either of those pairs.
Yet at the same time, his numbers haven't bowled anyone over, especially for someone picked as a sure thing, two-way, top-four guy. He has an 11-49-60 line in 220 career games, a minus-2 career rating, and has posted possession metrics below 50 percent the past two seasons.
As the team broke at the end of the 2017 season, one which Murray missed the end of because of a broken finger after 60 games played, team brass spoke of the defenseman’s development.
“I think it’s a big summer for Ryan,” president John Davidson said. “For him and for us, and he knows it. We’ve had good talks with him. He’s a good hockey player. We’ve seen some very good things from him. He’s had bad luck, without question, but he’s been able to overcome that. He’s at an age now where he’s not a young puppy anymore.
“But he seems to me at least to be more mature, which is natural. He’s another year older and he knows he wants it. He saw some people go by him. He’s a competitive kid. So for him it’s a big summer.”
It could be a big summer in more ways than one. As the Blue Jackets go about fine-tuning the roster for next season, there have been rumors about the team looking at making a deal – potentially for a top-line scorer.
How things will develop remains to be seen, of course, but as rumors have swirled, Murray has been a part of some of them. Again, rumors are rumors, but if you’re the Blue Jackets, Murray is an attractive trade chip – young, with seemingly untapped potential, and his departure could still allow you to keep the top four together depending on what Vegas does in the expansion draft.
Speculation is speculation, but the question surrounding how Murray – who is in the final year of a contract with a $2.825 million cap hit – fits in going forward is an intriguing one for the Jackets. And if he comes back and continues to develop, Columbus might just have a player who can add his name to the stars taken No. 2 overall.
“He’s very young,” general manager Jarmo Kekelainen said. “We think that if Ryan Murray is on our third pairing, that’s a huge luxury to have. I don’t think too many teams in this league have that type of luxury.”