Nail Yakupov will not be playing tonight. He is a healthy scratch. I understand and agree with what the Oilers head coach is doing with him.
Yakupov has an offensive skill that is impressive for a young player. Defensively he is not as impressive. In the NHL today you need to be able to play in both ends of the rink. It is clear that Eakins does not trust him at all to play even average while defending.
I have seen Yakupov fly by opponents on defensive zone draws. I have seen him show very little interest in back checking. He has blown the defensive zone when the Oilers did not have clear possession. The list is long as to mistakes he has made. It all adds up to a terrible plus/minus. I don’t always give that stat much respect but I do in Yakupov’s case because I have watched him play all season.
That is the bad news.
The good news is these are all very fixable flaws in Yakupov’s game. The big "IF" is does he have a willingness to pay attention to these details? Can he develop an understanding of what his responsibilities are on defensive zone draw – coverage and getting the puck out on the wall? Does he want to back check to put back pressure on attackers? Can he learn to read rushes against while he is back checking to understand who he should take?
This isn’t rocket science. He must WANT to learn and to do it.
Eakins is doing Yakupov a favour by trying to instill this in his game at this point in his career. Better to learn now then to try and retrain him in five years. There have been some tense moments between the two and there will be many more. Once Yakupov accepts what Eakins wants from him the learning curve defensively will be sharp and swift.
I get asked often if Yakupov will ask for a trade to a team that appreciates him for what he is, an offensively gifted player. Sure it is possible. I can’t say it won’t happen. I do know that if he gets traded the grass will not be greener there. Any coach and organization that wants to win will soon understand that this young player needs to learn to play a better defensive game.
In my opinion it is best that Yakupov learns these lessons now and with the Oilers. Trust me, if he were to go to another team so or later the same issues will need to be addressed.
I have also been asked why it seems Yakupov has been singled out? Why aren’t other forwards getting the same treatment? Should Yakupov be upset that other guys aren’t being say out?
Yakupov has his own issues with part of his game. He shouldn’t worry about or compare what he is going through to anyone else on the team. He should be focused on himself. He is the youngest forward and I have no issue with young players being leaned on by a coach with higher expectations of that player.
That being said to start this season many players on the team struggled playing and full ice game. Some still do. I expect Eakins to address those players’ mistakes just as quickly as young Yakupov.
Taking on the Coyotes
The challenge for the Oilers tonight will be keeping up with the Coyotes’ group of defenseman. This group is great a supporting and contributing to the offense for their team.
They love to jump into the play to create odd man rushes. They are very good at getting pucks through from the point. Their first passes are very quick and accurate.
As you watch the game tonight watch to see what the Oilers are doing to handle the group. If I am Eakins, I am preaching that the Oilers forwards to do three things:
- Get in on the forecheck quickly. Finish checks on the D so they can’t jump right into the play.
- Back check like your life depends on it. This will eliminate many of the odd man rushes the Coyotes D can create.
- Stand in shooting lanes to eliminate shoots to the net. This means to stand in front of the Coyotes stick on the blue line rather than standing in front of his body. This will force the D to hold on to the puck or put it back into the corner. Anything is better than a clear lane to the net.
Good test for the Oilers tonight. Paying attention to the Coyotes back end would be a good start to an Oilers win.