Does Nail Yakupov need to play right wing?

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Last night in Winnipeg, Nail Yakupov was put on the left wing of Edmonton’s first line, playing with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. The line didn’t play very well; Yakupov was terrible.

Early in the second period, Dallas Eakins bumped Yakupov down to the second line and back to right wing. Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle took off, and Yakupov was much improved.

Shift by Shift

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Looking through my shift-by-shift notes for Yakupov, it isn’t hard to identify the reason (beyond general ineffectiveness) that Eakins bumped him back to the starboard side of the ice:

  • Shift 1: Scrambling around the net, looking for an opportunity; he was all set for a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins pass but the centre shot instead… kept shifting over to right wing
  • Shift 2: shifted over to right wing again… got over to provide an outlet option on the left…
  • Shift 3: shifting over to right wing again
  • Shift 4: was offscreen, came back to the own end, failed on an awkward-looking clear… good entry, drop pass to Nugent-Hopkins that the centre couldn’t handle…
  • Shift 5: took the defenceman’s spot off the neutral zone draw… he’s moved to right wing again… in position for a RNH pass but again RNH shoots…
  • Shift 6: he’s on RW again… quick forecheck didn’t do much; drew a minus after a successful Jets stretch pass…
  • Shift 7: guess who is on RW… rounded the net and was following the play; gave a Jets skater a hard shove from behind…
  • Shift 8: did a fly-by of the puck (on RW) at the centre ice line, didn’t get possession as the Jets started the other way…
  • Shift 9 (Second period): shifts over to RW, again… finishes a check in the OZ…
  • Shift 10: had a winger win on a defensive zone draw but threw the puck in a corner where a Jet grabbed it… provided an outlet and made a good cross-ice pass… did a bad job on the forecheck, failing to initiate contact and picking the wrong side of the Jets’ D, allowing an easy outlet pass…
  • Moved to right wing of the second line
  • Shift 11: grabbed the puck on the DZ boards but passed it into Pouliot’s skates, resulting in a turnover…
  • Shift 12: made himself an outlet option , makes an entry with possession… second zone entry in a row, split the D but couldn’t shoot, passed back…
  • Shift 13 …
  • Shift 14: nice job following Pouliot, kept the puck in the offensive zone… almost lost Scheifele in the defensive zone but shoved him off the puck at the last moment…
  • Shift 15: (Third period) helped a bit to draw Draisaitl’s holding penalty by slowing up Morrissey… PP dump-in that led to an Oilers’ possession but nothing else…
  • Shift 16: helped win an offensive zone PP draw… hard shot went just wide…
  • Shift 17: stole the puck from Adam Pardy at the offensive blue line, passed it off and then went to the net…
  • Shift 18: entered the zone on the RW and cut in toward the slot, fired a dangerous shot despite being totally surrounded… good outlet pass to Pouliot…
  • Shift 19: cycled behind the net after taking the puck off the faceoff…
  • Shift 20: dangerous pass to Jordan Eberle on the PP, which keyed Winnipeg the other way…
  • Shift 21: another offensive blue line steal but he couldn’t control the puck… stole it again as the Jets tried to break out…
  • Shift 22: wandering around the defensive zone seemingly at random… couldn’t take the puck with him on a flyby and the Jets got a glorious chance a moment later…
  • Shift 23: almost stole the puck in the defensive zone in the last minute with the Jets’ goalie pulled…

The Short Version & Repercussions

Dallas Eakins 6

Yakupov kept transitioning back to right wing through his first 10 shifts, he was wholly ineffective in the role and he brought his linemates down with him. He wasn’t particularly fantastic on right wing, but he was worlds better, harrying the Jets at the offensive blue line and (despite some bad defensive zone moments) largely keeping himself in the position he belonged.

Like most coaches, Eakins would doubtless prefer if his left-handed shots by-and-large played left wing coming out of the defensive zone. But if Wednesday night was any indication, it’s going to be a process to break Yakupov into the role; besides that there isn’t a winger on a team likely to have fewer defensive responsibilities so putting him on the offside might not be as critical as putting someone else there. After the contest, Eakins told assembled reporters that he was leaning towards just leaving Yakupov on the right side.

If Yakupov plays right wing, it would mess up Edmonton’s expected line combinations a little bit; the team would need to find somewhere else for Teddy Purcell (likely on the second line) and either Benoit Pouliot or David Perron would be shifted down. Perron isn’t a terrible candidate, both because he and Yakupov played together last year and also because he’d doubtless be double-shifted on the right wing of the Boyd Gordon line if he were to be pushed down the lineup.

But it seems to be what’s best for the player, and in this case what’s best for the player is also probably best for the team. 

  • Do what Weight did?

    Yak seems like a young guy who needs to settle into a defined position and settle in to being an NHL player. I think once he calms down his game he will be great. He has the tools just needs to organize the tool box.

  • "Frank the dog"

    Yakupov’s game has changed this season if pre season any indication . So has Eberle , Hopkins , Hall and even Schultz . All are more dedicated to a 200 foot game and all are more prevalent on the forcheck , backcheck and defensive awareness to a point they have not been before . Not nearly as much run and gun or one dimentional play as in the past . I think it is very noticeable the change even in the pre season . Maybe our club is finally maturing and learning how to effectively play without the puck , and positioning better for the defensive aspects of the game ?

  • OttawaOilFan

    I can understand people calling for Yaki (giant Yak 2.0) to make the team out of camp. He’s looked really good. That said, i’d rather have him tear up the AHL, develop and play 20:00 a night in a feature role down there, than stay here and play 12:00 a night and hopefully do alright. Let him develop, make him force our hand. If he’s lights out bring him up halfway through the year. If not, let him grow and come in next year as a much more polished and effective player.

  • Jaxon

    I think it’s a worthy experiment, especially in the preseason. The other way to look at it may be that Yakupov’s habits are easier to break down if he’s not on his comfortable side. Maybe starting from scratch on LW is the best way to break him of bad habits defensively and start with a very simple defensively sound north-south game. Clearly he has a lot of bad habits when he’s on RW autopilot. Just a thought.

  • mithaman

    I was never a big fan of moving Yakupov to the left side in the first place. He’s a young kid with some chaos to his game who is trying to learn the NHL game. He’s likely played RW for most of his life, why change things now?

  • Anton CP

    Remember Eakins’ experiment on Hall C? I hope that at this time around he will realize for certain players are find it harder to adapt a new position, especially for someone who has the successes on their current position. Tendencies will make them constantly want to play back the way they were.

    Let’s try to use Ovechkin analogy, did position switch really helped Ovi on scoring? Actually not, he was more comfortable to play on right but his defense suffer a lot. He had the career worst -33. He did score 51 goals but 47% are from PP. In case of Yak, he needs to settle down on his position. He usually cause more problems on team’s defensive play when he starts chasing the puck all over the ice. One of the highlight turnover was when he started skating from left and try to cut back onto right side, avoid a check but turn the puck away and became an easy goal for opponent. Eakins needs to realize on not try to improve Yak’s defensive game, instead that he should make him to stay the hell of the way from the rest of the team and get ready to attack so he won’t interfere with his teammates’ defensive zone set up. An pure offensive mind player should learn to play the right way, not new tricks.

  • Alsker

    Honestly not sure if Eakins deliberately put Yak on the wrong wing simply to prove he can make in game adjustments(which obviously he couldn’t/wouldn’tlast year) or if he still has the smartest guy in the room attitude. All I know is if we don’t see Yak1 + Yak2 this preseason I’ll be pissed. Vladdy hockey aside, I’ve been pumped for these two rip it up since Yak2 announced he was heading our way this year.