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?



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.



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.”



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.

  • Admiral Ackbar

    I think we’re questioning the character if this kid a little too much. He’ll be great if he’s developed properly. He has elite talent and has to be taught the NHL game.

    How many of you remember being pig-headed 19 year olds? It’s the adults on the team that have to get through to this kid.

  • camdog

    The main difference between Yakopov under Krueger and Yakopov under Eakins, was Shawn Horcoff. Horcoff knew how to think the offensive game and he knew how to think the defensive game. We can all question his skill level the past few years as it dipped significantly, but I think it’s fair to say that Horcoff knew how to think the game as a NHL level centreman. If Yakopov struggled you could put him with Horcoff and Smyth, and settle him down and then move him to a more offensive line when had his confidence back.

    No offence to Boyd Gordon, because he has been a great addition to the team, but he doesn’t know how to think offence and Gags couldn’t think defence. It was absolutely painful watching Yakopov play with both Gordon and Gagner last season.

  • The Last Big Bear

    “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.

    • camdog

      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.

      • a lg dubl dubl

        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.

        • #ThereGoesTheOilers

          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

        • The Last Big Bear

          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.

          • ComeAtMeDog

            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 !

          • ComeAtMeDog

            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.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    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!!!

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    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.

    • ComeAtMeDog

      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.

      • ComeAtMeDog

        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.

  • Oilers Coffey

    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!!!



  • ComeAtMeDog

    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 !!

  • 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.

  • ComeAtMeDog


    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.