October 16 2013 06:23PM
It looks like some folks are taking this opportunity (the Yak healthy scratching) to take their shots at the young Russian. I say wait just one damn minute! Yak City might be struggling, but he's our guy and we've got his back!
Sometimes people just can't see the truly beautiful because they are focused on the wrong thing. Case in point: an article by Allan Muir today for SI. Muir quotes Russian national scout (and former Oiler) Igor Kravchuk, who had some harsh words for our man Nail:
- Kravchuk:“Obviously, from what I see, his team game is really, really poor. He tries to do a lot of things by himself and he has absolutely no defense and that’s what really concerns [me] as a scout. But if he’s going to listen to what the coach says, if he’s going to change his game, then he’s got a future.”
These are tough words, but there's some iron in them, too. Young Nail has been pressing, trying to stickhandle his way through an obstacle-course opposition often this season. His defensive play includes slow moving feet, a lack of awareness and we haven't seen him haul ass on the back check every shift and that's for sure. I have no issue with Kravchuk's words, he's a scout and was asked a question about Sochi and the Russian Olympic team. If he feels Nail isn't playing well, that's a warning sign for the young Russian. The issue for me comes with Muir's framing of the issue:
- Muir: Edmonton Oilers coach Dallas Eakins isn’t the only hockey authority who’s grown tired of Nail Yakupov’s selfish play.
I take issue with "selfish" in regard to Yakupov. This is a young man learning a new system and finding out (as the other young men on the Oilers are finding out, too) there's a new leader in town and turnovers, bringing the puck back into the defensive zone, crazy passes cross ice to no one, and individual efforts will not be tolerated. Yakupov is balking at the idea, expressing his belief that's he's better deployed as an offensive player. He's not refusing to make changes.
Wake up call for the player? You bet. Stubborn? Sure. Selfish? I don't see a lot of evidence, in Yakupov's words and manner, and certainly not in Muir's article. And I don't see why we wouldn't give him the benefit of the doubt based on his own past.
- Muir again: Eakins hoped to get his attention by benching him for a pair of recent games. Instead, a petulant Yakupov said, “I don’t really like playing without the puck, skate all the time and do forecheck and hit somebody every shift — I don’t think it’s my game.”
Petulant? It is certainly not the quote we're used to hearing from media savvy youngsters, but I'm not convinced he's being selfish here. I have to say this does not jive with my knowledge of the player. Perhaps Muir has encountered these things in Yakupov--he would certainly have access--but I think we have a right to ask the author for proof. I would also like to suggest that Yakupov--speaking in English--is probably more prone to using words that may not be ideal or politically correct without in fact having an agenda or being selfish. Agree?
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
- Eakins: "We just thought that he’d gotten to a spot of frustration where the kid’s passion is to score and he was just going to take it all on himself. You can’t do that. I don’t care how good you are, you can’t produce by yourself in this league — you have to use your linemates. It was more of a re-set button for him. He can come back fresh with a new perspective.”
This has been a tough couple of weeks for Nail Yakupov. I would hope that Oiler fans aren't quick to pile on, and would remind them about Yakupov's comments in regarding to playing with "my Captain" and other moments we've seen this year.
Yakupov arrived in this city with a boyish charm and a delightful passion for the game of hockey. Articles like this one are likely to make him more guarded in an effort to survive. And I believe that's a damn shame.