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.

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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

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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.

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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. 


  • NewfoundlandOil

    Yakupov is a right-winger, just like Taylor Hall is a left winger. This is where they should stay. Ideally Yak plays 2 or 3 line RW and is provided some sheltered minutes this year. 2 line PP with some more responsible defensive pairings.

    For the most part though Yak needs to settle the hell down. The game has not slowed down for him yet.

    He still reminds me of Brett Lawrie. When Lawrie is calm at the plate, he is hitting well. When he is playing with his bat and has active feet he is off his game.

    Yak still looks nervous and uncertain out there.

    Addition: This year more than any other Yak needs to be put in a position to exceed. The coaching staff need to figure this out, or they risk losing a potentially great asset.

  • Cain

    Why does Eakins keep messing with this kid? Let him play where he’s always played, get some confidence and achieve some success!

    Let him play where he’s comfortable and help him learn defensive hockey and how to play pro hockey, not turn him into a goalie because that’s what the team lacks.

    You drafted him number one overall for a reason. He has uncommon skill and shooting ability. If you don’t believe that, then why did you draft him in the first place? Draft for position if that’s what you want to do.

    Why do you keep trying to turn Yakupov into something he’s not, instead of helping him grow into something he can be? His one-timer was all we heard about in his draft year and now you want to take that away from him?

    The line-up requires some shuffling for positional purposes, fine. You have a team with a roster full of lesser-skilled, ham-and-eggers who can be moved around, and nobody will notice a difference in their production.Players that won’t be here in two years. Players who weren’t drafted number one. Players that will never have the upside that Yakupov has.

    • Zarny

      Sorry but moving a player to their natural W is not messing with them. It’s done on a routine basis by the best coaches in the game.

      Trying to turn Yakuopv into something he’s not? You mean like a complete hockey player with a 200 ft game?

      That is exactly what the Oilers have been trying to do. They sheltered Yak from tough competition last year. His offensive zone starts were through the roof. He’s been coddled as much as you can be in the NHL. The problem is Yakupov not the Oilers.

      Toews, Crosby etc are not complete hockey players because of coaching. They are complete hockey players because they’ve made conscious decisions to change their game to suit the NHL. Crosby and all the best players in the game repeatedly mention the adjustments they have to make to succeed.

      There is none of that from Yakupov yet. He still plays the same game he did in Jr. That will never succeed in the NHL. He is skilled to be sure; but he is not more skilled than everyone else. He does not have elite top-end speed. He has a good one-timer but it is not on par with Ovechkin.

      You draft a player #1 overall with the belief they can develop into a great NHL player. Not that they can be a great Junior player in the NHL. That will never work. To think Yakupov can be the same player and play the same way as Jr and have success in the NHL is foolish. As is thinking they should just let Yakupov do what he wants and not burden him with becoming a better overall player.

  • Oilers Coffey

    Just stop meandering back and forth between right and left wing Dallas.
    Keep him on the right side and Perron on Left wing. Perron likes burning down his off wing as well.
    Right wing is where Nail is going to have success, furthermore more offense for the team.

  • Thank you Mr Willis for writing this great piece. I had this very debate on LT’s blog a few days ago. This young player is struggling out there as it is and playing him on the wing he is not used to is making it worse. I mentioned the same thing that he is always playing the right side no matter what.

    I also noticed that Ebs was compensating by playing more on the left side a lot when playing with Yak. Eakins has to STOP confusing this kid and put him in a position to succeed and that is most defiantly NOT playing him on the left wing.

  • IM80

    Was Nail’s continue progression to the wrong wing defiance or just being lost? I don’t get Nail, he was given perferable linemates and from the outset he just needed to let the game come to him. Nuge and Eberle are give and go players. Just seems Nail is turning into a soloist at times, trying to take on to many guys, playing outta position to frequently.

    Had this been a regular season game he would of hardly seen the ice in the third.

    Something is lost in translation with Nail and Eakins.

  • Nomad787

    Why can’t a line of Drasaitl Yak and Pouliot be the “soft minute line”…Then Arco, Perron and Purcell could be the line that gets a bit tougher assignments.

    At this point, I think Arco is better defensively then Draisatl so it makes sense to have him play tougher competition, and give the velvet to the rookie and Yak.