At some point in the next 10 months, the Edmonton Oilers are going to make a decision on Nail Yakupov’s future. Ideally, the young Russian scores 20+ goals, matures as a player and Dallas Eakins does the same as a coach, and the Oilers have a sniper for 10 years or more. It would be folly to suggest that outcome is guaranteed, and the future with this player and the organization has some uncertainty.

In a story published today on TSN, Craig MacTavish talks to Bob McKenzie on a variety of issues. Among them is Nail Yakupov and expectations:

  • MacT: “Development is seldom a straight line. For very few people, maybe Sidney Crosby started here and went higher, but I think generally we put way too much
    pressure on young players. I expect Nail to go in (to camp), hopefully
    be able to breathe a little bit, take some pressure off and just gain
    some experience and continue to develop.”


Those are good words, but I find myself wondering how last year became so divisive for player and team. Part of it, no doubt, had to do with the maturity of the player and his agent (who frankly didn’t help the situation at all). The other thing, and I believe the addition of Craig Ramsay may have come about as a result of this, is an age-old tradition of ‘breaking down’ a player and putting him back together.

I’ve argued in the past, and will continue to, that a player like Nail Yakupov is an unusual talent, a different item, a gifted player but not a plug and play type. The Oilers and their scouts, development department and coaches had to have known this player wasn’t arriving with a significant defensive resume.

Do you remember the period before Nuge was drafted? Along with talk of ‘edges’ and skating and skills on the power play, there were a lot of words about range of skills.

  • Corey Pronman: Nugent-Hopkins having the high-end puck tools and no glaring
    projectable weakness makes him in my opinion a clear number one prospect
    in this draft class.


The same holds true for Taylor Hall pre-draft, range of skills.

  • Bob McKenzie: What else is there to say that hasn’t
    already been said? Taylor Hall skates like the wind, absolutely
    fearless, takes the puck to the net with equal amounts of skill and
    recklessness and does nothing but score big goals and win hockey games
    and championships. What’s not to like? He’s the prospect voted by scouts as most
    ready to step into the NHL.

And honestly, Taylor Hall pushed the river from the moment he arrived in the NHL.

Nail Yakupov is an outcast in a lot of ways when it comes to fitting in. This interview can either be viewed as one of the best ever (it’s hilarious) or as a young man who perhaps hasn’t learned ‘hockey politics’ and the art of the boring answer. I love Nail Yakupov BECAUSE of this interview, not in spite of it.

However, it’s also true that ‘range of skills’ were not a big part of his pre-draft resume.

  • Corey Pronman, Hockey Prospectus: “He’s a well
    above-average skater with plus speed and tremendous agility. He has the
    ability to push the tempo up the ice and keep defenders on their heels,
    but he’s probably even more dangerous at a standstill with high-end
    agility, first step acceleration, and a real slippery aspect to his
    game. He has such a powerful stride that he can take a handful of
    strides and already have traveled half the distance of the ice.”

Under Ralph Krueger, during his rookie season, Yakupov led the league’s rookies in goals. In year two, under Dallas Eakins, it did not go well. Healthy scratches (breaking down the player) led to overreaction (agent protecting his player).

custance yakupov

It’s safe to say that by the time it gets to the media in the form that we see here, the team has failed their fanbase. Whatever good intentions that caused the road to be taken (in a perfect world Yakupov would have been NA trained and know about positioning as it currently exists) when the agent is asking for a trade it’s an epic fail, as the kids say.

I have no evidence, but one suspects that the GM and coach huddled and decided they had to get this thing put back together. If you’re going to trade Yakupov, it’s best to do it after a 25-goal season. If he scores 25 goals in 2014-15, the Oilers may not want to trade him, and that’s my hope.

The Oilers have several nice spots they can slot Nail Yakupov this season, and ‘soft minutes winger’ and power-play trigger man’ are the two best options for success.


Dallas Eakins needs a productive Nail Yakupov like the flowers need the rain. The words of MacTavish above, the ones about being able to ‘breathe a bit’ are very important for Oiler fans. All three men have their futures intertwined, best to be on the same side. I think everyone should have had enough breaking down for a lifetime.

  • JBear

    Everybody is very critical of Yak’s defensive shortcomings. I remember when Mike Bossy played for the Islander dynasty. He was not a defensive stalwart, he was a triggerman. For some reason, I see Yak in much the same light.

    While Yak has to have some defensive awareness and cannot be a black hole, he is never going to be a Selke candidate and nobody should expect him to be.

    It is critical that Eakins find a centre with high end talent to play with Yak, feed Yak and develop chemistry with Yak. If that is done effectively, Yak will produce goals and become full value for his #1 overall draft status. If Eakins fails, then so will the Oilers.

  • JBear

    Man, so much negativity in this thread.

    Yak to me last year looked slow, not very strong on his skates or puck and had no quick step. It’s like he regressed last year.

    I am hoping for a huge turnaround from both Eakins and Yakupov.

  • Zarny

    I’ve said it before; Oiler fans were a bit spoiled by the ridiculous number of 18-21 y/o who drew a bee line to super-stardom in the ’80s. They were the exception; just like Crosby, Tavares, Stamkos and Hall.

    The hand-wringing last year over a 19 y/o not being a 200 ft player was a bit much. That’s actually the norm and to be expected.

    Throwing 18-19 y/o into the deep end to see if they sink or swim has been an obvious flaw in the Oilers’ rebuild. It’s a lesson Oiler management doesn’t seem to have learned with Draisaitl. Skill and being “physically ready” guarantee nothing.

    Yak will be fine. He needs to get the Jr out his game and learn to use his line mates instead of doing it all himself. Bobby Hull once stated he didn’t become a great player until he figured out he had to give the puck to Stan Mikita and that he’d get it back. That’s where Yak is at.