It was a trio which first saw the light of day during the Edmonton Oilers second game of the season against the Nashville Predators and one Todd McLellan has turned to in every game since. While Connor McDavid, Benoit Pouliot, and Nail Yakupov didn’t necessarily hit the ground running, the three have combined to give the Oilers new bench boss another legitimate scoring option.
Hockey Central at noon has noticed some chemistry blooming between McDavid and Yakupov. https://t.co/eAQuptbI3H
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 19, 2015
After watching the duo of Taylor Hall and McDavid struggle to find any sort of chemistry, McLellan wasted little time in trying to find a mix that would give his team a fighting chance to hold their own on a nightly basis. By putting Hall back onto a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, it allowed the long-time San Jose Sharks head coach to throw a line over the boards he knew could at least battle and at the same time, give him an opportunity to find No. 97 a running mate.
McDavid Continues To Shine
While it may not be a combo we see for the remainder of the year, for the time being, it looks as though the aforementioned trio are starting to show signs of becoming a productive unit. Despite playing their fewest minutes of the season against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night, they combined for two of the Oilers three goals en route to a 3-1 victory. McDavid scored a highlight reel game-winner early in the second and the likes of Hall, Anton Lander, Lauri Korpikoski, Mark Letestu, Nugent-Hopkins and Teddy Purcell did the heavy lifting the rest of the way. [Related Article: A Weekend To Remember For McDavid And Company] With the win, Edmonton has now won three straight and the guys who have been leading the way on the scoresheet are the 2012 and 2015 first overall picks. While the play of Hall and Nugent-Hopkins has had a huge impact on the recent turnaround, putting pucks in the net has allowed the Oilers to start winning games….something they proved incapable of doing over their first four games.
Those type of simple, but good decisions in his own end will help Yakupov earn trust from McLellan. Great finish from McDavid — Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) October 22, 2015
Over their last three outings, McDavid and Yakupov have collected ten points between them and the young Russian sniper hasn’t looked this confident since the final week of his rookie campaign. After showing signs of finding his way with former head coach Ralph Krueger, the kid struggled to find his way under the tutelage of Dallas Eakins and things spiraled out of control from there.
While that improved to an extent after Todd Nelson was brought on board to replace Eakins, the former Sarina Sting standout looked nothing like the player the Oilers thought they had selected with the first pick of the draft in 2012. To his credit, Yakupov has finally started to show a willingness to make the necessary adjustments to his play away from the puck and in his own end of the rink…and McLellan has rewarded him with the opportunity to play with McDavid.
Again, it may still be early but the two have started to mesh. It is no secret that McDavid needs to have the puck on his stick as much as possible and unlike Hall, both Pouliot and Yakupov are players who are much more effective with the puck on their blades as little as possible. Not surprisingly, both have been happy to move the biscuit along and simply do whatever is necessary to put them in the best possible situation to succeed and allow McDavid to do his thing.
Earning A Spot Inside The Top Six
For the first time in what feels like an eternity, Yakupov has become a scoring threat and it could not have come a moment too soon. Despite having Leon Draisaitl start the year in the AHL with the Bakersfield Condors and Jordan Eberle out of action with a bad shoulder, the 22-year old still found himself on Edmonton’s third line to start the year while rookie Anton Slepyshev opened the season in a top-six role. Can you say eye-opener?
[Related Article: The Edmonton Oilers And Life Without Jordan Eberle]
Kudos to the kid for making the concerted effort to improve and do whatever was being asked of him by this coaching staff. Subsequently, one has to give McLellan credit for reading the situation for what it was and handing Yakupov the chance to go out and prove what he could do with other skilled players. Putting guys in situations they were destined to fail in was something this organization has specialized in for some time and it has put many of them behind the eight-ball from the get-go.
It looks as though that will no longer be the case with the Edmonton Oilers and it may very well have given Nail Yakupov the lifeline he so desperately needed to get his career back on the track. Oilers Nation would love nothing more than to watch the fan-favourite morph into the sniper they were hoping their team had drafted in the summer of 2012.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.