Three games into the 2013-14 NHL season, the Edmonton Oilers have scored 10 goals and Nail Yakupov, who led the team with 17 red light celebrations as a rookie last season, doesn’t have any of them. Problem?
I think not, and for a lot of reasons, but then I wasn’t expecting Yakupov to simply pick up where he left off at the end of last season, when he padded his stats with six goals – more than one-third of his total — in Edmonton’s final three games.
That ridiculously hot three games – he scored the half-dozen on 13 shots – didn’t have me projecting him for 30 or 35 goals this time around (I pegged him for 25 goals in an earlier item) and these first three mostly so-so games don’t have me thinking in terms of a sophomore slump.
Streakiness, lack of consistency and big swings between the best efforts and the worst are very common with young players, and Yakupov, who just turned 20, is simply another example. He’s had some good shifts. He’s had some bad shifts. He’s had a lot of mediocre shifts. It’s been three games.
For context, it should be noted that Yakupov went three games or more without a goal on four different occasions in 48 games last season, including stretches of 16 games and nine games without an over-the-top celebration.
UP AND DOWN
Yakupov’s been playing about 16 minutes a night, mostly on a line with Boyd Gordon and Ryan Smyth. He’s been credited with six shots on goal, which actually represents a slight increase in his shot output of last season, when he had 81 shots through the shortened 48-game campaign.
Yakupov’s shooting percentage as a rookie was 21.0 per cent, making him one of just five players in the league who clicked at 20 per cent or better while playing 40-or-more games.
"He’s shown some flashes of excellence. He’s had a couple of dark periods, as well,” head coach Dallas Eakins said today. "That’s not uncommon, though, for a player of his age.
"The more experienced a player the more level, even-keel they play every night. The more inexperienced the player, the more ups and downs from game to game and from shift to shift. He’s trying to find himself.
"We’ve got a lot of work to do with Yak, but he’s got so much upside. Boy, when he grabs that puck, everyone leans forward on their seat. He got a fair bit of ice-time in the third period against the Devils, about nine minutes, almost half the period. He’s OK."
THREE DOWN, 79 TO GO
Eakins is right, of course. While coaches love consistency in their players because it makes their lives infinitely easier, expecting it from a youngster like Yakupov isn’t realistic. That doesn’t mean Yakupov shouldn’t strive to tighten up the gaps between his best and worst shifts, but it takes time.
If Yakupov goes out against the Montreal Canadiens at Rexall Place Thursday and pots a couple, consternation about his bagel through three games will no doubt turn, at least in some corners, to about how Yak City is back on track score the 40 goals so-and-so predicted.
When the droughts and hot streaks are done, I’m still thinking 25.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.