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Under Pressure: Nail Yakupov

Aug 14, 2014, 9:59 AM EDT

yakupovfocusgetty Getty Images

The Nail Yakupov headlines on PHT last season pretty much say it all:

Failing Nail? Oilers scratch Yakupov Saturday

Yakupov ‘not happy’ about being a healthy scratch

Yakupov will be a healthy scratch again Monday

Russian Olympic scout blasts Yakupov: ‘If he’s not going to change his game, he has no future’

Yakupov’s agent to meet with Oilers, ‘willing to make a move’

Yakupov: ‘It’s pretty cold on the bench’

Oilers to healthy scratch Yakupov… again

Eakins to Yakupov: ‘You’ve got to earn it’

So yeah, 2013-14 was not the greatest for Yak. Aside from the healthy scratches, trade rumors and acrimonious relationship with his head coach, Yakupov also missed 16 games to injury (concussion, ankle) and finished with the fourth-worst plus-minus rating in the league last year, at minus-33.

It’s almost hard to remember that, just two years ago, Yakupov was a tantalizing talent that tore up the Ontario Hockey League, scoring 170 points in 102 games over the course of two seasons with Sarnia. That paved the way for Edmonton to select him first overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, which paved the way for an immediate jump to the NHL, where he actually fared quite well — remember that Yakupov led all rookies in goals during the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign, with 17, and finished fifth in Calder voting.

Which made last season all the more nightmarish.

Now — and this is weird to say about someone that doesn’t turn 21 until October — Yakupov is at something of a crossroads. Barring a piano falling on his head, everything that could’ve gone wrong last year did, which provides plenty of narratives as the Russian sniper heads into the final year of his entry-level deal. Is Yakupov a quality player that simply had a dreadful sophomore slump? Or is he a one-dimensional, offense-first guy that just doesn’t get it?

To that last point — maybe he does get it. Contract status and his future with the Oilers are on the line, and it’s something Yakupov recognizes. From the Edmonton Journal:

Yakupov spent the first part of the summer back home in Russia with his family and friends. While he was having a good time and training as much as possible, he recently returned to Edmonton to get ready for his third NHL season.

“It’s maybe a huge year for me,” he said. “I feel more comfortable to train here than at home, so that’s why I’m here.

“I’ll train with the Oilers prospects, and then the NHL players are going to come, and then I want to play in the three-on-three tournament. … I want to be here.”

It’s worth noting that pressure on Yakupov is coming from outside Edmonton as well. Ryan Murray, who the Oilers passed on at the ’12 draft, just turned in a banner year on the Columbus blueline. The decision was controversial at the time…

… and continues to be today, especially with how valuable talented young defensemen are. And how badly Edmonton could use one.

So, just to refresh what Yakupov’s up against: a contract year, coming off a horrible second season, under a head coach he didn’t see eye-to-eye with and in the growing shadow of Murray, the guy the Oilers could’ve had.

That’s pressure.

  1. bsaures - Aug 14, 2014 at 10:22 AM

    Just throwing this out the maybe eakins isnt actually a good coach. When he was hired the thing everyone kept saying was how good he was at developing players but looking at his track record I dont see it at all. Who has he “Developed”? He has handled the situation terribly so far

    • hockey412 - Aug 14, 2014 at 10:41 AM

      It might be the case, but after a while you have to stop looking at the coach and look elsewhere, they’ve changed coaches like 5 times since 2009. Their record and GF were at least up a little last year. Very little, but still.

    • jpelle82 - Aug 14, 2014 at 10:53 AM

      culture change takes longer sometimes than just 1 year, i wouldnt beat eakins up yet, maybe after this season if things havent improved.

  2. phtjoey - Aug 14, 2014 at 10:57 AM

    If he doesn’t then he’ll be KHL bound. I’m sure PHT had a long list of candidates (on and off ice) from the oilers for their under pressure article. Hope the Oilers do well with the additions and substractions this summer.

  3. pjblake2redwings - Aug 14, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    if he has a bad year he will be gone for sure to KHL.. they need to trade him and get what they can while he is still under Oiler contract

    • jpelle82 - Aug 14, 2014 at 11:09 AM

      no one will trade for this cancer….

      • guitarhunterdude - Aug 14, 2014 at 12:44 PM

        I’d take him on the Wild, in a third-line scoring role with Haula and Coyle/Niederreiter, maybe even put him on the first line next to Koivu (who could cover for him defensively). I think he’d do pretty well next to a defensively responsible guy, or in sheltered minutes (which he’d get with Haula’s line).

        I think he’ll rebound pretty well this year, though, so they’d have to get him before the season while his value’s still relatively low.

      • thefranchise777 - Aug 14, 2014 at 2:52 PM

        Philly immediately springs to mind. Seems like I recall Columbus dumping one of their young Russians on them a few years back, prior to him disappearing from the league……

    • missthemexpos - Aug 14, 2014 at 11:35 AM

      The only team I could see possibly swinging a trade for Yakupov would be the Habs to reunite him with Galchenyuk, his center from his high scoring junior days.

  4. 19to77 - Aug 14, 2014 at 11:46 AM

    The kid’s got all the skill he’ll ever need to succeed. It’s just a matter of work ethic and maturity, and those come with time. We’ve all ragged on him for last season’s gongshow and Russian stereotypes hardly help his case, but I figure he’ll probably round out in the end. Kid’s made it this far. He’s not just gonna throw a hissy fit and go home. Like I said, the skill is there. If he works for it enough, there’s no reason that guy doesn’t post 25 goals or more this year.

    • phtjoey - Aug 14, 2014 at 12:11 PM

      It’s not that simple. His game awareness and hockey IQ are too weak regardless of his talent. His inability to make the right decisions on the ice is killing his chances of having a long a successful career in the NHL. How do you reach awareness and IQ? He plays the game like he’s playing shinny hockey on a pond.

      • 19to77 - Aug 14, 2014 at 1:36 PM

        I want to take this opportunity to point out that Steve Yzerman was at one point such a one-dimensional, defensively lazy player that the Wings nearly dealt him out of town. He then proceeded to learn how to play the whole ice to such a degree that he won the Selke a few years later. Awareness of the ice and the vague concept that is hockey IQ are things that tend to come with time. Players don’t just hop into the NHL and intuit the pace of the game immediately. Some guys take years to get it down – I’d put Kyle Turris forward as an example of that. People called him a complete bust in Phoenix. I’m sure they’re regretting rushing to conclusions about his ceiling now.

        Complicating Yakupov’s situation is the fact that the Oilers are one of the least patient organizations in the NHL. Clearly he doesn’t have the luxury of an organization that is willing to develop their prospects. With the apparent exception of Darnell Nurse, Oilers policy seems to be “Throw ’em in at the deep end and see who doesn’t drown.” Just watch how they mis-handle Draisatl in the exact same way.

        At this point, kid could still be boom or bust to me. I’ll accept your point in a couple of years, but for now I’m sticking with “Wait and see, a lot can still happen with this kid.”

      • jpelle82 - Aug 14, 2014 at 2:40 PM

        good points. if he wasnt a russian i would personally give him the benefit of the doubt but lets be honest, there arent that many yzerman-like stories out there. the league and public opinion seems to be less forgiving these days when its a 20 something russian kid who probably isnt as educated, mature, or generally groomed for this league as an yzerman was. for every yzerman it seems like there’s 50 volchkovs (sorry caps fans).

      • thefranchise777 - Aug 14, 2014 at 2:55 PM

        Don’t forget that Yzerman also played during the wide open offensive days of the 80’s. He learned sound defensive hockey along with a LOT of other players as the game changed in the early 90s. Had anyone other than Bowman been his coach, his name wouldn’t have even come up in the same sentence as “trade”.

  5. ballistictrajectory - Aug 14, 2014 at 2:51 PM

    Let’s hope he gets it Nailed down.

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