Nail Yakupov to be scratched again


Edmonton Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins announced this morning that Nail Yakupov will be a healthy scratch against the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday.

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The Player

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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.

The Coach

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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.

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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.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • Nuge&Connorvs.Sam&Sean

    Thank god we scratched Yakupov. Might as well ship him out now for more toughness and guys who try really really hard but are ultimately useless like Luke Gazdic!!!

  • Nuge&Connorvs.Sam&Sean

    And the first first overall pick out of town is: #64!!

    Good luck signing the other Russians. But, alas, I am just a center ice fan, so what do i know??

    • Ducey

      I agree 100% , coach s taking a hard line approach with one guy. Think of the free passes ebs and hall got in their first two years. This guy is getting no chances……….

      How could he not be producing playing 6 minutes a night with gadzic ,the only thing owrse would be putting him with belanger lol

      • Rick Stroppel

        So Eberle and Hall got “free passes” in their first two years did they? Please look back in their careers and see if they did the following over a forty game period, half a season, in the NHL:

        (1) Fourteen points.

        (2) One (Two?) even strength goals.

        (3) Minus 25.

        (4) Publicly says he doesn’t like to play defence.

        (5) Allows his agent to come to town and gripe. Rather like the parent in Pee Wee hockey who complains to coach that Sonny Boy is not getting enough ice time.

        Yakupov is not being singled out. He deserves everything he is getting.

  • Slapshot

    Eakins is an idiot,

    “I need him to score” how in the hell will he score with 6 minutes of ice on the 4th line.

    If I here him say fitness level once more ill puke look what fitness level has got us last in the west.

  • 6zeppelin6

    Yak is just an easy target for Eakins. Lots of players deserved to be benched this year but most of them make too much money.

    Barely playing and benching Yak may also be part of a bigger plan to keep his 2nd contract cheaper. We definitely can’t afford another 6M/season forward. The season is already done, so might as well keep Yak off the scoresheet as much as possible so he has no ammo during discussions of an extension after this season.

    • Ducey

      He has been playing better but he still looks lost in the neutral zone a lot.

      He just kind of glides around. We heard about his speed in junior, but how often do you see it?

      There is not a lot of back checking, shot blocking, going to dirty areas, etc.

      With that shot he should bet trying to get off 3 or 4 more shots a game.

      The question that should be asked is why isn’t he getting farmed to OKC. A month dominating down there might do him a world of good.

  • Arius Mumin

    Coach Eakins, is this a revenge on Yak for being out spoken? I see some other players who should be scratched before Yak. For instance, Sam, jr Shultz , Ebe, so on…..

  • Nuge&Connorvs.Sam&Sean

    A little surprised given that the team is out of the playoff running already. I’d stick Yak on a line with Gordon and Smyth. Let those two take them under their wings and give him feedback on any shift where his performance or positioning is left wanting.

    Gordon-Smyth-Hemsky has been a very good line as of late and I’d hate to break them up, but like I said, we’re not playing for the playoffs anymore. Developing Yak should be the priority. I guess you could argue this will teach him accountability. But you could make that argument that some of the other young guns need that lesson too.

    • Dan the Man

      Yak did play with Gordon for a bit but the problem with that is Eakins likes to use Gordon for a most of the D zone draws and against tough competition which would be a huge problem with Yakupov on his wing.

      • Dan the Man

        True that regarding Gordon. But I think that’s the best way for Yak to learn the defensive side of the game. Play him in those situations with guys that know what they’re doing. I’m confident Yak’s offence will come around once he’s mastered the basics. He definitely won’t score if he’s being benched.

        I think we can also do some things to make Hall and Eberle more complete players. I think the turnovers have declined quite dramatically from earlier in the year, but they could be better on the backcheck.

  • Dan the Man

    I don’t really have a big problem with Yakupov being scratched. He hasn’t been good enough on most nights. I just wish Sam Gagner was held to the same level of accountability. I know it’s tough to scratch him right now with Arcobello hurt but what about the rest of the season?

  • Arius Mumin

    Eakins is a joke.

    I wish one of those females with microphones in front of him had a set of testicles to actually ask a real question. I would really like to know more about this earned ice time and acountability Eakins speaks of, but everything has to be taken at face value and never questioned.

    I am not an idiot and I do not believe Yak and Igor to be. I hope Yak demands a trade, get traded for the lowest possible value, then grows to be an elite on an actual NHL team and haunts Eakins corny ass for the rest of his corny career.

  • BC BOY

    if yakupov was having this same performance under any other coach in the NHL do you think they would be babying him and hope that he gets better? Doubt it.

    Don’t see why people are freaking out over some tough love for yakupov. He’s not going to become a better player by having it easy his whole career.

    And people have to stop complaining about how Gagner doesn’t get scratched. Eakins knows Ganger is a questionable a marginal 2C and he knows how talented and good yakupov is so to hold them to the same standard doesn’t make sense.

  • Serious Gord

    As Johnathon alludes to – would yak thrive under a different coach?

    I would further that question to: has any player played better under Eakins than they did under Krueger?

    Gordon and Perrons performance don’t count as they were playing under very differnent circumstances last years and thus are difficult to compare.

    • **

      I think you’re full of s%$t 90% of the time, but that other 10% like this comment is always solid.

      Krueger should’ve got the benefit of a full season. Forget Yakupov for a moment, the PP and PK were elite under Krueger and they are in the sewer now under Eakins, even with a better (at least on paper) roster and the benefit of a full pre season.

  • BC BOY


    When you look at Yakupov’s line being outshot over and over, especially last year, did you ever look who his center was most of the season? Gagner.

    Gagner is a shots-against sieve this year, and was even worse last year when – IMO – he was blatantly cheating for points.

    What are Yak’s non-Gagner results like, do you know?

  • A-Mc

    I dont understand the love that so many of you have for Yakupov.

    Here are a few little fun facts:

    1. The higher up the roster a player is, the tougher the competition is going to be for that player – GENERALLY SPEAKING. ex) Nuge plays much tougher competition than Lander or Acton.

    2. Even on the 3rd or 4th line, Yakupov’s line is being outplayed. read: Outplayed vs weak competition.

    3. When Yak is put into the top 6, those lines don’t perform as well. Also, he continues to fail to produce even with the good line mates.

    Yakupov is a microcosm for our entire team. The Oilers have high offensive potential but they can’t seem to figure out their defensive game. High Risk. This style of play is clearly enabling us to be picking top 5 for the 4th time in 5 years at the draft. The Oilers will move up the standings when they start playing better defensive hockey; Yakupov will move up the lines when he starts playing better defensive hockey.

    Until then, both the Oilers and Yakupov will be bottom feeders. It’s time to break the bad habits and it certainly looks like Eakin’s is trying to do that. GJ Coach, keep it going.

    • Arius Mumin

      Most oppositions 4th lines are way better than Oilers 3rd line, and sometimes even the 2nd.

      When you are playing on the worst line on the worst NHL team: what exactly is a sheltered minute?

      • A-Mc

        Even so, the competition is still easier on the 3/4 line as opposed to 1/2. Even if the Oilers’ 3rd line was more like a teams 5th forward line (if there were such a thing), it still doesnt change the fact that Yakupov is failing vs competition that is weaker than the competition he’d face if he were in the top 6.

      • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

        So what you’re saying is that the only real way to shelter him is to send to the AHL for awhile so he can get way more minutes, learn the defensive side of the game and gain some confidence….I think you’re on to something there!

          • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

            You need to pay a little more attention yourself there Arius….I was playing a little trick on you there….putting words in your mouth….read it a couple of more times…let me know when you get it…..then we can move on.

          • Arius Mumin

            I’m not a baby or a woman, if there is anything going into my mouth it is because I really want it there.

            If I want people trying to trick me: I’d go listen to a Eakins press conference.

    • **

      YOur first point is just plain uninformed. Gordon plays the tough minutes. Comparing Nuge with Lander or Yak is like comparing Potter with Shea Webber or Ryan Sutter.

      Second point, again, misinformed, because, again, Gordon plays third line.

      Third point, difficult to asses on black and white. Yakupov played on those lines sometimes against tougher teams where none of his line mates did scrap. Goaltending was also horrible during some of those games, so don’t blame it on Yakupov alone.

      Next time please learn the difference between fact and opinion

      • A-Mc

        Nuge vs Lander was comparing the quality of competition they face, which obviously is much different. That was the Point, but you missed it. If Yak was with Nuge, he’d face much harder opposition than if he was with Lander.

        The whole Gordon portion of what you’re saying doesn’t really matter. The normal mode of operation is that lines are matched and therefore, the 1st and 2nd lines are seeing tougher competition than the 3rd and 4th lines.

        I was going to type up a nice long factual post with real numbers and everything, to refute your response, but in the end it isn’t worth it. What i said IS fact and also some Opinion.

        Obviously I’m not too far off base because the coach seems to think Yak isn’t doing so well either.

  • Nothing wrong with scratching a young player.

    Didn’t Eakins say that he WOULD make players responsible and that they would have to EARN their icetime?

    I know some would suggest that others should be benched first but really, you can’t bench the whole team at once.

    Give the young guy some time to learn his role just like Kadri had to.


  • Eakins it appears has a chip on his shoulder against anybody that might be more talented than him. His mentality is starting to get bizzare. Develope the kid in the NHL or devolope the kid in the AHL. Make up your schizo mind. You will both be better off.

  • **

    I think Ray Ferraro said it well with Anthony Mantha at the WJ tourney on the weekend.

    He spoke about Mantha’s 1 dimensional capability and lack of effort at times. He added that most coaches prefer 200 foot players but that last 60 feet (in the offensive zone) is most important. You need goals to win games.

    I understand wanting to make Yakupov a 200 foot player, but that wasn’t his game when we drafted him and it isn’t likely going to be his game in the future.

    This kid is a finisher who can dish good passes and is willing to throw the body. He is not a shot blocker, he is not a fighter, he is not a grinder.

    Why not stick him with Gordon and Hall? He has good chemistry with Hall, and Gordon can cover their asses defensively.

    • A-Mc

      That might work, but you’d need two solid 2way guys to go with him to make up for his 1-way game.

      The Oilers dont really have any solid 2-way top 6 guys. Nuge is going to be decent one day, and Perron is good now.. That’s about it. Hall, Ebs and Gagner (Especially the latter 2) aren’t very good defensively.

      So.. you’re almost damned if you do and damned if you dont

  • **

    Eakins lost the team with the double standards and he lost this fan as well.The arrogance he portrays is obvious and I cant stand looking at him on the bench.Last game Smyth played 10 more minutes than Yakupov,give the kid a chance to prove himself.Eakins ego seems to be more important than giving Yak the opportunity to succeed.Way to drive down the players value if they were going to trade him,wich I hope for Yaks sake they do.I work with a guy who feels the Oilers ruin young players and I have disagreed with him but as this crap carries on he may be right.Eakins got to this point coaching in the AHL where 90% of his team would never be good enough to make the NHL and here he is dumping on a kid who was the 1st overall in the entire draft.I know the koolaid consumers with trash this post and I could give 2 sh!ts if they do, but has Eakins made any of the kids better players so far this season?

    • Serious Gord

      I’m feeling the same way. Well put.

      And since we are out of the playoffs – why are we wasting valuable ice time on Smyth when he won’t be part of this team’s future?

  • ubermiguel

    I saw some defensive improvement on Saturday (covering the pinching d-man’s position, more skating the neutral zone), but except for about 2 or 3 rushes he was pretty much an offensive non-factor.

  • Rob...

    I’m getting really sick of quotes from a coach who either lacks sincerity or calls it like he sees it but is completely delusional.

    Our power play is a joke, our penalty killing is weak, just about every player we put on the ice is making turnover gaffs, but hey, why not go with a single whipping boy… that way you don’t ‘lose the room’.

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    I have no problem with Yak getting benched, he needs to be better. My problem is with Eakins’ definition of things like ‘accountability’ and ‘earn your time’.

    Example 1: Gagner; example 1a: Joensuu.

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    I feel for Yaks but the bottom line is that he is not fit enough!

    When he runs those stairs at Rexall after the games, he is using a body double. For those fans that think Yaks has been singled out for his poor play……..remember when Hemsky use to be the turnover machine? I think that Mac T told him to smarten up and look where he is now.

    Yaks needs to produce more with less ……….and hit and fight to boot. When he has learned all this then he should become more fit and learn how to compete better…… the rest of the team.

  • Rick Stroppel

    Gregor, I don’t get your comment about Yak” already having one of the best shots in the league.” I see his shooting% is about 8%, which is not good. When he gets his shot off it is very hard, but he misses the net too often and really struggles being able to adjust himself to get his shot off with anything less than a perfect pass. More often that getting a good shot on net he has either missed the net or fanned the shot. I’ll grant that when he hit’s one it goes hard, but I think having “one of the best shots in the league” is more than just speed.

    I hope this is the 1st step and he spends the 2nd half of the year in OKC. Not as a punishment but because he needs to work on his game. I recall that Spezza was a number 1 who spent a year in Jr and most of his 1st 2 years of pro in the AHL. Spending some time in the AHL is not the end of his career.

  • **

    Eakins is using Yakupov as a scape goat to “show” the public he is all about accountability. Gagner is playing much worse when his numbers are adjusted for games played and still sees prime time. If they are really about developing send him to the AHL, don’t use him as the pinata when the coach fails to ice a competitive team.