Contrary to what some may suggest, the Edmonton Oilers did not make the wrong decision in selecting Nail Yakupov with the first overall pick of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. With the circumstances being what they were, also known as an unhealthy Alex Galchenyuk, drafting the gifted Russian was an absolute no-brainer. Unfortunately, things have not played out in the manner that either the player or organization were hoping.
After showing signs of life earlier this season, thanks in large part to his chemistry with Connor McDavid, the 22-year old had hit yet another speed bump in what has been a ridiculously inconsistent first 200 games of his career. While Yakupov went into the tank the moment McDavid broke his collarbone, his season took a turn for the worse during the second period of Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
#Oilers forward Nail Yakupov out 2-4 weeks (ankle sprain).
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) November 26, 2015
In what was as bizarre an injury as you will see, the fact linesman Matt MacPherson lost his balance and proceeded to take out Yakupov on a faceoff at centre ice is almost laughable. For a franchise that appears incapable of catching a break, outside of winning draft lotteries, it seemed rather fitting for the Oilers to lose a player for an extended period of time on such a crazy play.
Yakupov Has Down Little Without No. 97
With McDavid still weeks away from returning to the lineup and Edmonton getting no offensive production from their bottom six forwards, taking another highly skilled player from the lineup is something this team can ill afford. Though with Yakupov’s inability to put points on the board over his last ten games, while being a complete non-factor in almost all of them, one can’t help but wonder how much they will actually miss the former Sarnia Sting standout.
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As invisible as he has been over the past three weeks, let’s not be silly here. News out of the Oilers camp on Thursday was that Todd McLellan was going back to a line of Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, and Taylor Hall as his top unit and turning to the trio of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Lauri Korpikoski and Teddy Purcell as line number two. Which leaves Mark Letestu centring Matt Hendricks and Benoit Pouliot as his third unit and a potential fourth line made up of three of Anton Lander, Luke Gazdic, Iro Pakarinen and the recently recalled Jujhar Khaira.
Bottom-Six Remains A Major Concern
Not sure about all of you but the chances of that bottom-six producing much of anything is highly unlikely. At least with Yakupov in the mix there was the opportunity for something positive coming out of seeing No. 10 skating around the rink. Could that third line chip in a goal or have a good night from time to time? Of course but once you take the individual players histories into account and realize the chances of the Nugent-Hopkins line creating any sort of offence on a consistent basis as negligible at best and you are suddenly looking at a one line team.
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So yes the fact Nail Yakupov has two goals in 22 games this season and scored a grand total of 27 in 166 games over the last three NHL campaigns is not good. While he may not have always been placed in a favourable setting, at some point a player with his pedigree has to take matters into his own hands and start becoming a difference maker. To this point in his career, that has yet to happen but the fact remains this roster is simply not equipped to handle losing this kid for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, that is exactly what this group will have to deal with for the foreseeable future.
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.