Oilers: Making Nail Yakupov A Priority

Following last night’s 5-2 victory over John Tavares and the New York Islanders, the Edmonton Oilers have now taken home points from four consecutive games for the first time since mid-October. While they are still comfortably buried in the basement of the Western Conference standings, this team is finally starting to show some sign of life as we approach the midway point of the 2014-15 National Hockey League campaign.

In the grand scheme of things, earning six of a possible eight points over the course of a week is really not that big of a deal but when you are on the verge of missing the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season, one can hardly blame fans for getting excited over any sort of positive outcome.

With that said, arguably the most troubling part of how things have unfolded over the last couple of years in the Alberta capital, has to be the regression in the production of one Nail Yakupov. After yesterday’s appearance against the Islanders, the former first overall pick has managed to score four goals and register all of nine points in forty games this season.

As if those numbers were not already bad enough, over the last year half, Yakupov has fifteen goals and eighteen assists in 103 games with a plus/minus rating of -52. To makes matters worse, the talented Russian has actually made improvements to his overall game but presently looks nothing like the player Edmonton was hoping they were getting when they used the first pick of the 2012 Entry Draft to bring him on board.

(Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports)
(Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports)

Perron’s Departure = Opportunity

Clearly things have not gone well for the former Sarnia Sting standout after a fairly successful rookie campaign and while those struggles are not solely on the individual, the fan favourite has come nowhere close to living up to expectations. However, at this stage of the game, trying to put “x” amount of blame on the player, coaching staff and/or developmental system within the organization is a complete and utter waste of time.

Whatever has gone on in the past essentially has no bearing on where things go from here. With roughly three months of playing time left on Yakupov’s entry level deal, the primary focus for the rest of this season should revolve around trying to get this kid going. After Craig MacTavish decided to trade David Perron to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a 2015 first round pick and Rob Klinkhammer, it appeared as though the organization was leaning towards going in that direction.

Yet if we are to take anything away from the Oilers last couple of games, early indications would suggest the complete opposite. Instead of giving the twenty-one-year-old top six minutes with some of the more talented players on this roster, the youngster has been skating on what is essentially Todd Nelson’s fourth line with Anton Lander and newly acquired Matt Fraser.

Yakupov saw all of 12:30 of ice-time against New York on Sunday evening, after playing just over fourteen minutes against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night. One could easily make the argument that his level of play has not warranted him receiving extra time but in this case, the long-term objective has to be taken into consideration. If the plan is to move forward with him as part of the equation, then it is on the organization to ensure they put him in the best position possible to show what he can do.

If they cannot do something as simple as that, then what is the point of this entire endeavour? Does anyone honestly believe that playing him on a line with Fraser and Lander is what this kid needs? To make matter worse, he has essentially become an afterthought on the man advantage, after scoring six times on the power play in 2013 and on four other occasions in 2013-14, this despite the Oilers inexplicably sitting near the bottom of the league in power play efficiency.

Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle
(Dustin Bradford/Icon SMI)

Yakupov – RNH – Hall

In all honesty, he should be given the next twenty or twenty-five games to play on a line with Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins…and it should not even have to be a discussion. Arguably the best Yakupov has looked since Ralph Krueger was relieved of his duties as head coach prior to the start of the 2013-14 season, was right around the time of the Olympic break for the 2014 Sochi games. During that time, he was playing on a line with Hall and Nugent-Hopkins and for the first time in ages, started to resemble the player fans saw flashes of during his seventeen goal rookie season.

Unfortunately for him, the Oilers inability to win hockey games led to that trio being broken up shortly after the Sochi Olympics and it has never seen the light of day since. Why you ask? That is a very good question and likely one that only former head coach Dallas Eakins and perhaps the current general manager can honestly answer. Bottom line, something has to give because what they are currently doing is not working.

There are some who have suggested that maybe Yakupov would benefit from a stint in the American Hockey League with the Oklahoma City Barons and who knows…maybe he might.  At this point, anything other than the current status quo should be considered. One thing is crystal clear, the player needs to be thrown a bone and all he keeps being given is one anchor after another.

Again, whatever happened previously can no longer be the primary focus. It is time to turn the page and see what they can do for this young man before it becomes too late. From this point forward, all that really matters is how the Edmonton Oilers decide to use Nail Yakupov for the remainder of the current season. They most certainly have the ability to give him the opportunity to go out there and sink or swim but their hesitation to give him that shot, certainly speaks volumes as to how they ultimately foresee this one play out.

11 thoughts on “Oilers: Making Nail Yakupov A Priority”

  1. I for one believe the remainder of the season for yaks should be played in the A barring the haze of Oklahoma or whichever team they farm the oilers would be wise to straighten this kid out now and allow some proper fundamentals back into his game otherwise another wasted top pick

  2. Good read. Thx. If the Oilers have lost faith then perhaps a ticket to Philly would help. I would do back flips for a Read+Coburn etc swap. However I can do back flips fairly easily and I place zero value on Coburn. The Flyers have an opening on the first line which is currently occupied by Rinaldo…’nuff said.

    • Yakupov is the one guy who could come back to bite them. If they were to trade an Eberle, Hall or RNH, which I still do not see them doing, no one would be surprised to see them put up big numbers elsewhere. In fact, it would be expected. When it comes to Nail, everyone seems ready to write this kid off and in my mind, that would be a major mistake. Thank you for the kind words.

  3. “If the plan is to move forward with him as part of the equation”

    Its not. Its been clear for a year now this organization was done with him after the nonsense he pulled with his agent last year.

    • It is starting to look that way. At the time, the hope was that entire situation would be nothing more than a blip on the radar screen but that clearly has not been the case.

  4. Nail is the least appreciated 1st over all ever. Always benched with no accountability, never given a chance on o/t or shoot outs. Ridiculous when the team is 30th place team and treats a 1st overall like this. Nail should be given TOI to find his ways just like the others.

    • The fact Yakupov has yet to participate in a shootout to this point in his young career is a real head scratcher and get me started on the club’s unwillingness to use him as a focal point on the power play.

  5. Since his entry level deal is coming to an end soon I don’t think management wants him to succeed right now. I think they still believe (and so do I) they have a diamond in the rough and if it starts to sparkle before re-signing him they could be in for a pricey contract.
    Cap space is going to be an issue on this team soon enough, and I think there trying to find a way to keep the costs down.
    With Yaks play I don’t think any other team is going to open the vault for him either.
    Once they add a few more pieces (McEichel) and make a few trades they may very well have a pair of very good 1 & 2 lines and I think the long term plan is to place Yak onto one of them.

    Or I’m completely wrong and as the history shows they just don’t know what to do????

    • Unfortunately, nothing we have seen to this point in the season would suggest Yakupov can flip the switch and turn this thing around. They are on the verge of losing this kid and that is something which cannot be ignored.

  6. Todd Nelson is an interim coach, meaning he needs to whatever it takes to win games and secure an NHL coaching position for next season. Whether that means with the Oilers or elsewhere, Nelson is putting himself on display. If putting Nail Yakupov on the first line helps this club win games, than that’s where he would be playing. However, the past two seasons show no evidence that the kid deserves top minutes.

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