Nail Yakupov: Bigger, healthier, happier

Nail Yakupov

The relationship between 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov and Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins is one that’s been much written about. From the outside, we don’t actually know much about the dynamic, but it’s a critical one if Edmonton is to get the most out of the talented sniper who struggled so badly in 2013-14.

Judging from what was said on the first day of training camp, it’s a relationship that has improved greatly with communication and familiarity.

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The manners of Yakupov and Eakins are a study in contrasts. The young winger’s availability was of the damn the torpedoes variety; he kept some things to himself but was excited and energetic and seemed not too worried about being open with the press. The coach went on at length, at times bluntly, but was clearly being careful in what he said; he even noted that he’d learned in the last year to talk less with the press. But for all the differences in style, the substance from the two was remarkably similar.


Dallas Eakins 13

One of the questions for Eakins was what his message for Yakupov was entering training camp. He denied that he had one, having taken care of such matters over the summer, and said that getting mental and physical rest in the offseason were key for the player:

I spoke to him enough times this summer that there is no message now. He’s excited to come in. He’s had a really good summer, first of rest for his body; he was banged up a fair bit last year, things that he tried to play through that we greatly respect him for. I think he got some mental rest. It was a tough season, I think there were too high of expectations put on this player after his first year shooting at such a high percentage in that shortened season. He’s ready to go… There’s no message to Nail. I’ve covered a number of things off with him; the biggest thing for me with Nail is that he’s walking in with a smile on his face. I think he learned a lot about himself, the game, last season and it’s going to pay off for him big time.

It’s easy to forget now, but one of the things Eakins came to Edmonton with was a reputation for being able to connect with his players on an individual level. He talked at some length about the importance of coaching individuals rather than a group, and his former charges with the Toronto Marlies raved about his ability to connect with them one-on-one.

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I thought of that when I heard Eakins talk about the importance of Yakupov walking in with a smile on his face. Yakupov’s exuberance and emotion were obvious as a rookie but were less in evidence during a difficult season; much of that is doubtless effect but one wonders to what degree attitude was also cause. I’m probably reading too much into it, but Eakins’ comment struck me as both a nod to the importance of keeping Yakupov excited to play the game and a willingness to try and keep that attitude in place.



Yakupov’s English is improved, but at times it’s still not entirely clear what exactly he means with his wording. But whatever confusion there might be in specific instances, there was no misunderstanding the general thrust of his comments when he was asked how often he’d spoken with Eakins in the offseason:

Three for sure. He called me when I was on vacation, actually. I was really surprised; I was happy to see his call and we had a really good conversation. Especially when I got here I got a message from him again, and then not for a month, we talked to him again and then I just saw him again. We spent more time on the phone than to see each other as last year. It’s a good thing; we getting close to our coaching staff and we have new coaches too. It seems much different than last year and much better. I’m just happy to see Dallas all the time and not feel any pressure when you talk to him, when you have conversations… I feel much better to have a conversation now with Dallas and I think that’s a good thing. I don’t think you’ve got to be scared about anything; you’ve just got to trust this guy and try and follow the system and everything they say and just play the game.

The tacit acknowledgement in those words is that last season there were times when Yakupov didn’t feel comfortable talking with Eakins, times when he felt he was under pressure. But it seems that increased familiarity has eased that, and it’s hard not to credit Eakins for taking the initiative to call Yakupov over the summer and break down whatever barriers existed between coach and player.

5’11”, 197 pounds


In that same interview, Yakupov said that he’d gotten bigger over the summer.

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“I gain big, actually,” he said. “My weight is much bigger than last time but it’s not fat it’s all about muscles. My body fat actually is pretty well, too; I just took it.”

Yakupov is now listed at 5’11”, 197 pounds after spending last year listed in the 180-something range (if memory serves, had him at 189 pounds). That’s a lot of muscle for a sub-6’ forward, but Yakupov plays a bullish style of game and the extra weight shouldn’t hurt in that department.

As always, caveats about ‘he’s in the best shape of his life’ reports apply. But it’s another positive note for a player who seems to be both happy and healthy after a nasty 2013-14 campaign.


  • SavardianSpinorama

    It’s important Yakupov have a banner season . Perron and his hip injury could be meddlesome for club . Maybe another reason Yakupov is trying LW this early season .

  • Dan 1919

    Good to see the microscope coming off of Dallas and Yak a little just before Yak enters his third season. No doubt this will be a big development year for Yak, but as mentioned many times, this whole Yak thing is blown out of proportion.

    He’s very young still learning the NHL game, and it sounds like he is progressing. Yak had lots of issues with trying to push every play too hard, and deke out every guy on the ice last year then just always turning the puck over; all issues to be expected by a kid with such high individual skill first learning the NHL game.

    At 111GP he’s really not even half way through his second season, and at very least, huge ups and downs should be expected through a teenagers first two NHL seasons. I expect to see solid all around improvement this year, but even at that, it may not be until his third season where we really see what type of player he’s becoming (end of this year start of next).

  • Cain

    I hope this Kid can play up to his potential.He could be a first line winger easily.I’d like to see him shooting more often, and that may happen with regaining confidence, which I think he lost last year.

    Less expectation of being “THE ONE” can only help to relieve pressure on him too.

    It sounds like he has matured a little. Good to hear him referencing playing the system, and not saying backchecking isn’t really his thing.

    I’m hoping he’s going to be much more effective this season.

  • hemmertime

    I could be way off base, but something that nags me is the perception I have that the “core” group is insulated from the rest of the team.

    I don’t get the impression that they take a let’s tighten the entire group as much as we can with open arms.

    There’s nothing written in stone that they have to hang out with everyone, but in my experience the closer teams are the better they perform as a unit.

    I wonder how welcoming they’ve been to Yak. There’s a question mark in my mind of could they have softened the landing for Yak some more?

    • Admiral Ackbar

      This “core group” lead by Hall comes across as mostly an immature group. The immaturity shown in their game the past 4 years was distracting, hopefully they’ll begin thinking and behaving more like men.

      Yak is immensely talented imo and everyone connected to the Oiers would be wise to participate in his development and that includes the likes of Hall & Eberle.

      Some of the egos in this room have kept players from signing here and that needs to stop.

  • hemmertime

    The most salient story here – Eakins has let his guard down a bit and seems more comfortable in his role as mentor. Last year Eakins was thrust into an un-winnable situation and approached it with unyielding conviction. Perhaps this was a necessary defense mechanism to prevent himself from cracking under the pressure. This year, it seems the pressure is reduced even though the expectations are heightened. Interesting. We are just one losing streak from it reverting but it is refreshing for now!

  • I don’t know if this weight gain is a good thing, his break away speed was not good to begin with and this will slow him down.

    they key with nail is that he is used as a pure sniper, especially on the pp. he should be completely insulated from acute defensive responsibility and just allowed to fire away. I’d have him with nuge and Hall and have eberle slotted on the 2nd line.

  • Grant

    Speed and quickness is one of his biggest strengths what are you talking about?
    This guy is gonna fit in just fine sand it’s gonna work out for yak. Btw he is part of this core!! Played only 111 games . He never had to play in all areas of the rink in junior. I think he is gonna surprise a few people

  • Alsker

    I am happy to see for now that there is harmony with Eakins and Yak. This season, the team needs both big time to do what their jobs are (as also the rest of the staff/team)… With these two one has to coach properly and one to play properly.

    That being said… Yak maybe needed to learn english a lot better so as to finally understand better what the heck he has to do as a very good skilled player and it will come down to his maturity as well. Eakins is showing a nicer side but he has to realize as well that his attitude will be important as to how this team is willing to perform for him or not.

    I believe that Yak is on his way up again and him working out most of the summer in Edmonton shows he wants to succeed here and now. Let’s just hope it’s not because of only that a new contract is up for grabs and this is just a one yr incentive to get huge money.

    But I will say this – I believe in ya Yak, I believe. Go Oilers!!!!

  • pkam

    I think the kid’s failings fall on the coach. He has a tool and doesn’t know how to use it. For anyone that has tries to use the back end of a screw driver as a hammer, it works, it’s just not the best use for a precision tool.

  • Red Line Report in 2012, ranking the best skaters in the draft:

    1. Nail Yakupov – Combines top-end speed with explosive acceleration and an extra separation gear. Tough for any “D” to contain.

    An internet comments section in 2014:

    [Yakupov’s] break away speed was not good to begin with and this will slow him down

    It’s a funny little world.

  • BlazingSaitls

    In the words of Daft Punk

    Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger!

    Screw the few haters and trolls out there most every Oiler fan is a Nail fan. Have a great year Nail, we are all cheering for you!

    • Alsker

      Had to “cheers” you just for mentioning Daft Punk…damn now I cant get that tune out of my head…as for Yakcity…give her sh*t dude and stick it to all the haters!!!!!!!!!!

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    Yak was unreal in the lockout season. Best rookie season i had seen in years, not just because he lead the team in scoring but the passion he played for…

    The passion he showed for his team, fans and for the sport of hockey…

    I am hoping last year was just a sophomore slump… adding 11 pounds of muscle should help his overall game… Sometimes Oiler fans forget this is just a 19 year old kid and is far from a finished project… He can learn to back check, judging by Halls comments he just learned how himself after the Olympics this year – hope it doesnt take Yak as long…

  • BlazingSaitls

    We’re going to need a much better Yakupov this season. With all of the holes down the middle, we can’t afford to have our talented wingers fall off. There’s always lots of optimism this time of the year so we’ll see what happens when the rubber hits the ice.

  • nuge2drai

    I was at the training camp game today and Yak looked like the guy from 2 years ago. He was posing for pictures while serving a penalty and interacting with the crowd. After the game he skated a small lap clapping and thanking the crowed when no other players did that. He was definitely having a good time and enjoying playing the game.

    He also looks like a bull. Pure solid sturdy mass and he was hitting again today like he did in his first year. Overall very positive from a fans perspective.

  • DoubleDIon

    Everything is always positive in September. Let’s see what happens the first time Eakins ego and Yakupov’s collide. The first benching, refusal to put him in the top 6 ect.

  • DoubleDIon

    This team better learn to play for one another, and stop the practice by the
    CCOW club to embrace the entire team.
    Too often these guys just hifive themselves.

    Guess maturing by all will help the situation, including the coach.

    I think Yak as work to do on his game, but
    he sure looked like he was on the outs with everyone last year, including the coach.

    Though grind for a 19 yr old kid in a country he is not used to.

    • mithaman

      Its more then whats been talked about in this thread already. Hemsky made mention of it when leaving – now the young guns have no one to blame but themselves cause everyone else is gone.

      Between Eakins and that little cliche lead by Hall I’m uncertain how much success they’ll have. Trading Eberle for Ryan Johansen MIGHT be a good thing for the Oil. Points drive contracts and almost to a man/boy that’s how the players play.

      Guys like Nuge and Yak would be welcome in almost any environment, the other core players already come with baggage….

  • Admiral Ackbar

    I don’t care what anyone says, how he performs or how he hates playing D. Yak is my favourite Oiler. No one on this team has the raw emotion & passion of this kid. He’s got talent to burn, it’s up to the organization to bring it out of him.

    Yak city!

    Seriously, I’d love Yak & Yak2 on the same line. Please!

  • Dan 1919

    I suspect with Yaks he did not find a “kindred soul”, to play hockey with………the big three obviously have chemistry and only like playing with each other.

    If Yaks and Drisiatle, or Yaks and Arco can find some chemistry, he will have a breakout season. I for one am praying that Eakins forms his lines well in advance of the season and let’s them develop some chemistry…….his incessant juggling and changing line combinations last year was one of the problems.

    Yaks will have a 60 point season this year and look good doing it!