December 30 2013 12:34PM
Edmonton Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins announced this morning that Nail Yakupov will be a healthy scratch against the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday.
Nail Yakupov hasn’t been good enough this season.
His stats line shows that (39GP – 6G – 8A – 14PTS, minus-25), and the fact that he’s getting badly outplayed in the most sheltered minutes available is a real problem. The plus/minus exaggerates things (last year at five-on-five Yakupov’s on-ice save percentage was 0.923; this year it’s 0.868, and one would need to be delusional to think those numbers accurately reflect the state of Yakupov’s defensive game in those two seasons) but he’s been getting out-shot and out-chanced despite getting primarily offensive zone time.
He remains a phenomenally talented player, the guy who led both his team and all NHL rookies in goal-scoring last season. He’s fast and aggressive and has a shot that is already one of the best in the game. But he needs to dramatically improve his overall play to be a useful NHL’er.
Dallas Eakins, understandably, feels that Yakupov needs to be better if he’s going to earn more ice-time, and that he can’t just keep gifting him with minutes if the results aren’t there.
“You’ve got to earn it,” he says in the video above. “You have to do a number of things on the ice every day. Every day. It can never change. We cannot give things to people. You have to earn them.”
Eakins further said he’d spoken to Yakupov for “40 to 45 minutes” about the scratch, and that he and the player had a “definite plan moving forward.”
Naturally, the coach is going to take some criticism for the scratch, as he took some criticism for sticking Yakupov on the fourth line and slashing the player’s power play role. It’s impossible not to recognize the talent that the Oilers have in that player, and naturally fans want to see him placed in a position to succeed.
Eakins, though, seems clearly focused on the big picture. A scratch here or there isn’t a big deal; Yakupov’s performance this season isn’t even the primary problem. Yakupov is the kind of player who has the talent to play a pivotal role for the Oilers for the next decade or more. The problem Eakins faces is turning him into the best possible player for that next decade, and if that means making unpopular decisions in a season that (like so many others) was lost before the halfway mark, that’s what it means.
Yakupov entered the NHL and had instant chemistry with his first head coach, Ralph Krueger. His enthusiasm was obvious and infectious and a bright point in an otherwise unmemorable season. But it’s worth remembering it for what it was – that despite Yakupov’s point totals, his line was out-shot game-in and game-out, and that all too often he seemed to be floating around on the ice with no clear idea of where he was supposed to be.
Perhaps Krueger would have been able to correct that with time, or perhaps not. Now the responsibility falls to Eakins. Improving Yakupov’s game might be the single most important thing Eakins does this season as Edmonton’s coach, and given that he’s previously compared Yakupov’s problems to the early struggles of people like Steven Stamkos and Joe Thornton it’s a good bet he knows it.
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