WHAT ABOUT NAIL?

Robin Brownlee
July 20 2014 12:46PM

Nail Yakupov

While Nail Yakupov wrapped up his rookie season as a member of the Edmonton Oilers with a bang, scoring six goals in the team's final three games of 2012-13, he went out with a whimper as a sophomore, sidelined by an injury to end a difficult 2013-14 campaign.

Yakupov's torrid final few games as a rookie under coach Ralph Krueger saw him finish the season with 17-14-31 in 48 games, tying the former Sarnia Sting sniper for the NHL scoring lead in points among freshmen.

In contrast, Yakupov finished last season under rookie coach Dallas Eakins on the shelf with a foot injury, leaving him with just 11-13-24 in 63 games, a marked step back for the right winger from Nizhnekamsk. 

Yakupov critics talked about how his rookie campaign was something of an illusion, his stats inflated by an unsustainable shooting percentage and that hot finish. Yakupov's backers, meanwhile, pointed to how, when and with whom he was used by Eakins as the reason for his drop off in production.

So, what to expect in 2014-15?

TRYING TIMES

Stats

Statistically speaking, Yakupov's ice time under Eakins was 14:19 per game, slightly off the 14:34 he averaged under Krueger. His shooting percentage dropped from 21 per cent to nine per cent under Eakins even though he shot at a slightly higher rate – he went from 17 goals on 81 shots to 11 on 122. His plus-minus went from minus-4 to minus-33.

Noteworthy in that, framed by what was perceived as a sometimes strained relationship with Eakins, was that Yakupov's power play time dropped from 2:28 per game to 2:10. He was made a healthy scratch by Eakins. He often found himself playing alongside bottom-six linemates.

That sparked plenty of debate. Did Eakins give Yakupov every chance to succeed in terms of the situations he was used in and the linemates he was deployed with? Well, no. Did Yakupov earn those opportunities? Well, no. Did Yakupov and Eakins both contribute to what we saw? Yes.

Eakins didn't always like what he saw from Yakupov, and there was plenty not to like. Too many defensive lapses. Too many times when he didn't use his linemates. Eakins used the only currency at his disposal, ice time, to get that message across. It was obvious that sometimes didn't sit well with Yakupov, notably back-to-back healthy scratches.

LESSONS LEARNED?

WhatDidYouLearn

While I don’t think Yakupov, any player for that matter, should simply be handed prime ice time without earning it, my impression from afar was that Eakins was occasionally heavy-handed in the lessons he attempted to teach. It was equally perplexing to see Yakupov play, it seemed, without a clue.

"With Nail, it was like with a lot of our guys. We had to come in this year and hit the reset button," Eakins said in April. "Hitting that reset button was very hard on Nail. He’d been allowed to just go out and play by his coaches in junior and everyone before.

"We could continue to do that. Or we could start to build the foundation of how we’re going to play as a team and what that means to each individual, so that we can have success in the playoffs and turn into one of these top-level teams.

"You can’t just play the individual game. And it wasn’t just Nail. We had a whole bunch of that going on here and we had to reset it and there’s been pain and suffering doing it. But I think our team is much better for it now."

THE WAY I SEE IT

TheWayISeeIt

When I watch Yakupov, even allowing for the expected bumps along the way you get with a young player, I see a talented kid who has a long way to go to grasp systems and the importance of team concept. I'm not convinced, yet, he accepts he has to change his approach at the NHL level. He must.

That said, patience – Oiler fans have come to hate that word – by Eakins is also an absolute must in this situation. Eakins has to make his expectations of Yakupov clear and make sure nothing is lost in the translation. It'll take collaboration. It'll mean give and take on both sides.

I hope Eakins and Yakupov have that conversation. I hope they get on the same page. Maybe they already have. Until that happens, we won't see the best of Yakupov. 

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#51 The Last Big Bear
July 20 2014, 09:01PM
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"I’m going to play my game,” he said. “I’m not going to change but maybe play better without the puck, or forecheck more, but I love playing with the puck. I really don’t like skating all the time, and forechecking, and hitting somebody every shift. I don’t think it’s my game.”

He may be a thoroughbred, but he's a thoroughbred that hasn't been saddle-broken yet. And if you wait too long to break him in, he'll never be a good horse.

Dallas may or may not be the best man to do it, but he's the man with the reins in his hands right now, and it needs to be done. Put him on the 3rd line, cut his minutes, scratch him, these are all things that have to be done if the kid isn't behaving right (and he isn't). Dallas seems to be doing exactly what needs to be done.

And don't trot out the excuse of "How is he supposed to learn if he doesn't get ice time?".

The quote above shows that he knows EXACTLY what he needs to do. He just doesn't think he should have to.

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#52 Nina Russo
July 20 2014, 09:06PM
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Well it's good to see there is someone out there who defends the hapless Eakins, let's just hope for Yakupov and the rest of the impressionable tong OIL that Eakins and his new assistant (and MacT) for that matter, flop on their face, and quickly into the season, so that the players and the city actually get a coaching staff and management that fosters better, more exciting hockey, none of this boring clog up the creativity (ice) with size and lack of skill in order to squeak out more loser points and crawl into a battle for 10/11 spot under the guise of "challenging for a play-off spot" ..... But we came sooo close this year!!!

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#53 Yaz
July 20 2014, 09:18PM
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Woogie63 wrote:

Eakins should be under a very bright spot light. If he can't get the best out of this group of athletes, the coach always goes.

A small pile of evidence is mounting that Eakins is in over his head.

Agree, everyone digressed under the swarm or whatever crap Eakins was selling last season, unless Ramsay can instill some real coaching into the players Eakins will not see Christmas as the coach. He and Acton were damn poor coaches last year with no leadership just petty benchings and water bottles tirades.

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#54 Mujidog
July 20 2014, 09:35PM
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It seemed like Eakins was trying to teach Yakupov during games. And only during games. Do the Oilers not practice? Could Eakins not have taken Yak aside after a practice and had a few words with him? Maybe he did and Yak wasn't receptive to constructive criticism? I don't know what happened, but it was bad. Really bad. Yakupov and his agent were basically talking to Eakins THROUGH THE MEDIA.

This is one of Eakin's biggest tests. I hope Craig Ramsay can make a big difference with Yakupov.

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#55 Silo
July 20 2014, 09:36PM
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@The Last Big Bear

I think you misinterpret that quote of you're. He's saying he's not a third line player. He's not an energy banger/crasher and he's not a defensive specialist. He's an offensive weapon that likes to play with the puck. That's what he's good at, that's what he was drafted for and that's what we need him to do.

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#56 a lg dubl dubl
July 20 2014, 10:04PM
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Silo wrote:

I think you misinterpret that quote of you're. He's saying he's not a third line player. He's not an energy banger/crasher and he's not a defensive specialist. He's an offensive weapon that likes to play with the puck. That's what he's good at, that's what he was drafted for and that's what we need him to do.

Im sorry but if he turns out as Ovie 2.0 who scores 40 but also comes away with the green jacket every yr, then no I don't want that in Yakupov. Id rather see Yak get 25-30 and closer to par. IMO that's what will help the Oilers more.

Doesn't have to be a banger and crasher, Yak does need to learn the defensive side too.

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#57 Silo
July 20 2014, 10:40PM
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@a lg dubl dubl

I agree that's what would help the team more but you can't force a guy to be somthing he's not if he's not willing to. I think the oilers should've known what yak was when they drafted him. If they didnt want that type of player they shouldn't of drafted him

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#58 The Last Big Bear
July 20 2014, 10:52PM
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a lg dubl dubl wrote:

Im sorry but if he turns out as Ovie 2.0 who scores 40 but also comes away with the green jacket every yr, then no I don't want that in Yakupov. Id rather see Yak get 25-30 and closer to par. IMO that's what will help the Oilers more.

Doesn't have to be a banger and crasher, Yak does need to learn the defensive side too.

In my somewhat younger years, I played in a Russian system, for a Russian coach.

He would yell at me for backchecking too hard. If I came lower than the hash marks to support my defence, he'd start swearing. He'd gesture frantically to start blowing the zone at the earliest possible excuse. It was like living in bizarro world. "Save your energy for when youre on the rush! Make fancy moves at the offensive blue line! Don't be patient, go try to be a hero!"

And when I started buying in, it was a thing of beauty. I went over to the dark side, and it was AWESOME.

Springing your sniper with stretch passes. Defencemen just chipping the luck out but racking up assists because there are guys in the neutral zone waiting for it. THREE MAN BREAKAWAYS.

Kovalchuk floated in the neutral zone, not because he was lazy, but because it was drilled into him that *that is his position*. You are the goal scorer, go score goals.

Having a super-conservative Canadian in that system just messes things up. I had to change the way I played. My game didn't fit in to what the team needed, so I had to knuckle under and do what the coaches wanted. And it worked.

Yakupov needs to realize that he's not in Kansas any more, and if he wants personal and team success in the NHL, he needs to skate all the time, forecheck and backcheck hard, and play the body every shift.

Even Ovechkin isn't providing full value as a purely offensive weapon playing his own game. And Yakupov is no Ovechkin.

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#59 Oilers Coffey
July 20 2014, 11:00PM
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Hail Nail! The kid loves and lives to play hockey! He's focused and is going to come to Oilers camp ready and focused. I'm looking for a huge year from Yakupov!!!

:))))))))

$$)))))))

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#60 KozyMel
July 20 2014, 11:11PM
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"Eakins ... occasionally ... attempted to teach ...Yakupov ... without a clue."

You can quote Robin on that!

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#61 ComeAtMeDog
July 21 2014, 04:06AM
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Well he can't be worse than last year that's for sure , he did his sulking and seen the way smyth got a send off from the fans and other players ( Vancouver ). I hope that inspired all the boys to come together and play hard and work together to win us a cup . Let's hope the light at the end of the tunnel is here . C'mon nail . We are cheering for u !!

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#62 wintoon
July 21 2014, 05:41AM
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There is a general misconception of Yakupov's attitude. This stems from his centre ice slide after scoring a big goal and Don Cherry branding him a show boat. Ever since then the MSM have been taking pot shots at Yakupov.

He is a teenager in a foreign country. Imagine yourself in his place. You are playing hockey in Russia, as a teenager, on a different ice surface and being taught the subtleties of hockey at the NHL level by someone who only speaks Russian. Despite your best efforts it is hard to pick up the language because the Russians do not even use the same alphabet we do. Top it all off with the fact you are playing for a team which has had a dismal record for almost a decade.

I certainly understand some of the challenges he faces. I can only hope the Oiler brain trust understands and shows some patience and perserverance in developing his talent.

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#63 Back to Troll Town
July 21 2014, 09:44AM
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@The Last Big Bear

Ya right !!! Division 6 mens league doesn't count buddy!! Why don't you and the rest of your poor loser fLamerNation buddies and Troll somewhere else ! Go back to being a douchebag on that lame fLames site. Be better, or better yet, be gone !

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#64 Jeff
July 21 2014, 09:54AM
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ROUND PEG SQUARE HOLE

Drafted for his offense, not his defence ability.

Let's stop lying to ourselves and try to force Nail to become something he is not.

Kruger encouraged his to be the best Nail he could be and we got to see who he was.

Eakins wants to push a round peg into a square hole, fundamentally I get it, but at point of potentially wrecking a player, take a step back.

Let the horse run and let's see how damaging he can be when he plays his game.

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#65 ed in edmonton
July 21 2014, 12:32PM
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The Last Big Bear wrote:

In my somewhat younger years, I played in a Russian system, for a Russian coach.

He would yell at me for backchecking too hard. If I came lower than the hash marks to support my defence, he'd start swearing. He'd gesture frantically to start blowing the zone at the earliest possible excuse. It was like living in bizarro world. "Save your energy for when youre on the rush! Make fancy moves at the offensive blue line! Don't be patient, go try to be a hero!"

And when I started buying in, it was a thing of beauty. I went over to the dark side, and it was AWESOME.

Springing your sniper with stretch passes. Defencemen just chipping the luck out but racking up assists because there are guys in the neutral zone waiting for it. THREE MAN BREAKAWAYS.

Kovalchuk floated in the neutral zone, not because he was lazy, but because it was drilled into him that *that is his position*. You are the goal scorer, go score goals.

Having a super-conservative Canadian in that system just messes things up. I had to change the way I played. My game didn't fit in to what the team needed, so I had to knuckle under and do what the coaches wanted. And it worked.

Yakupov needs to realize that he's not in Kansas any more, and if he wants personal and team success in the NHL, he needs to skate all the time, forecheck and backcheck hard, and play the body every shift.

Even Ovechkin isn't providing full value as a purely offensive weapon playing his own game. And Yakupov is no Ovechkin.

This is very similar to what Paul Maurice said about Yak before Maurice got the gig in Winnipeg.

Your description of Russian coaching might tell us why the Russkies have crashed and burned at the last couple of Olympics.

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#66 Mclick
July 21 2014, 12:50PM
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@Mujidog

Go back through all the Eakins interviews from last season. There wasn't alot of practice time, especially at the beginning of the season. Abbreviated season and didn't we have some really bad road trips to start.

I expect a much better year from all the players and I think Yak will be the most improved.

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#67 Ed in Edmonton
July 21 2014, 12:54PM
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Mclick wrote:

Go back through all the Eakins interviews from last season. There wasn't alot of practice time, especially at the beginning of the season. Abbreviated season and didn't we have some really bad road trips to start.

I expect a much better year from all the players and I think Yak will be the most improved.

Good point, this is one of the things Eakins will need to adjust to. Between the travel days and the mandated days off, he will need to make the most of the what is left for practices.

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