Does Nail Yakupov need to play right wing?


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


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.

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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.

  • 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.

  • RCN


    Purcell plays with Gordon & Hendricks, and Yakupov plays RW with Arcobello & Gazdic/Joensuu. Rage ensues. Beautiful.




    Joensuu/Gazdic (HALL)-Arcobello-Yakupov

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • There are some growing pains/adjustments with all our players , as they are more committed to playing a sounder 200 foot defensive and offensive game . We lead league with only 4 goals against in 3 games . We appear to be making major strides in reducing goals against . which is a top priority going into this season . Offense will come from that commitment in various forms . Already we see evidence of this commitment from our star players .

    • Agreed they are improving. However, the Oilers were also 1st place in their division in pre-season standings in 2013 with 11pts, and were 3rd in goals for……pre-season rarely correlates directly to regular season results

    • The Soup Fascist

      That is a good thing. But remember the Oilers have played three games against teams with half NHL rosters. I wouldnt be too quick to jump on the “major strides in reducing goals against” bandwagon just yet.

      I think it is a good sign, but let’s wait until bullets start flying instead of Nerf balls for a few games before we get too excited. Lots of growing pains yet, I fear.

  • 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.

  • I imagine last night Ebs was doing what I do when playing hockey online on my ps3: screaming into my mic for the hundredth time to tell the n00b LW to stay on his side of the ice and stop crowding the right side. Not only is he not there to give the D an out, but he’s taking away the Rw’s opportunities too. Double whammy.

    Yeah. Me n Ebs have a lot in common!

    *pats beer gut earned as veteran video hockey player*

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    Trying to stuff a square peg into a round hole. This is poor coaching/management 101. At least Dallas is showing signs of improvement.

  • Wax Man Riley

    Ahhhhh…. My goat in fine form again last night. Yak is the epitome of one-dimensional, and he’s pretty bad at that one dimension to boot.

    He has to learn how to play hockey, not just skate up the side of the wing, look for a pass, if it doesn’t come, look lost.

  • Wax Man Riley

    Hall – RNH – Ebs

    Perron – Arco – Yak

    Pou – Drai – Purcell

    Hendricks – Gordon – (Plus best of the lot)

    1= Best Op, handle the toughs
    2= A guy who likes to defer in Arco and two guys who like to carry the puck and shoot
    3= protected line, rookie plus some veteran
    4= Try to more good then harm and end the night even or better.

      • Zarny

        Exactly how does this make “too much sense”?

        Purcell was significantly better than Yakupov both offensively and defensively last year. So far, Yak has shown nothing to suggest that has changed this year.

        Tying a defensive anchor to Perron and Arcobello does not make Edmonton a better team. Quite the opposite.

        The reality is none of the Oilers’ options make “too much sense” because they have to try to shelter both Yakupov and Draisaitl. Nothing about that makes sense.

          • Zarny

            Yes, Draisaitl and Yakupov would likely get their heads kicked in on the road without last change.

            Yet Yakupov’s poor defensive play and one dimensional game will be an anchor for Perron and Arcobello on the 2nd line.

            Quite the dilemma isn’t it? Bit of a catch 22. Which is why none of the options make “too much sense”.

            They should put Yakupov on the 3rd line where he can be sheltered. That’s not the problem.

            The problem is going to training camp with only 2 NHL C. That’s what needs to change.

          • "Frank the dog"

            Meh, Perron, Arco, Yak, or if Yak plays up Drai and Poulliot making a Perron Arco Purcell line, both are a massive upgrade on the rotating Brown Acton, Gazdic line of last year.

            Everyone seems to forget that this is effectively replacing the forth line of last year.

            I really don’t think Yak is going to be a big anchor to Perron and Arco playing soft minutes. And if as you say other teams with last change put their top line out against the Yak line, well that is a bit of a risk reward since that frees up the Hall Nuge Ebs line.

            I’m pretty sure most coaches put power on power.

          • Zarny

            No Will, that simply isn’t the case.

            You seem to forget than Gordon-Hendricks and whoever rotates with them is who is effectively replacing the fourth line from last year.

            Here is the thing…the Oilers can’t afford to have Perron and Arcobello playing “soft minutes”; especially if they have to shelter Draisaitl on another line. Perron played against the same level of competition as Nuge last year with more defensive zone starts. The Oilers will need Perron to do that again. If Yakupov is on his RW he will be an anchor on that line. His defensive game simply isn’t good enough.

            Purcell is the direct replacement for Hemsky who drew the tougher defensive minutes last year so the Oilers could shelter Yakupov. And considering Hemsky outscored Purcell 43 PT to 42 PT in fewer games I don’t think you can call it an upgrade. At best, it’s a lateral move where Purcell brings something a bit different.

            If you have to shelter Yakupov again this year it means Purcell will have to take over for Hemsky playing the tougher minutes on the 2-3 lines. You could do that with Pouliot on LW but not with Draisaitl at C. Which means a 2nd line of Perron-Arco-Purcell makes more sense.

            At least then Eakins only has to worry about babying one line instead spreading soft minutes across 2 lines because 1 player on each line can’t stay above water.

            It’s not a good option but the Oilers don’t really have any good options because they only have 2 NHL C. It’s at least a better option.

            An no, most coaches don’t necessarily put power on power. Some players are used that way – Toews, Crosby, Kopitar. Other star players are not – Kane, Stamkos.

          • Anton CP

            Whoa whoa whoa, I think this is getting a little bit into semantics really. The Gordon line, no matter what number you want to attribute it to, is the exact same line as last year, only likely a bit better considering they will get a full year of Hendricks and Gordon, and will let the cream rise to the top of one of 9 players currently fighting it out for that RW spot.

            So, assuming Poulliot, Draisatil, ?(lets say Perron for now) replaces the second line of Perron, Gagner, Yak; And the Gordon line or last year’s third line is the same minus Hemsky on it, which sounds like it gears itself better towards what it needs to accomplish, then whatever line involving Yak and Arco that is made this year, is essentially replacing the bottom line of last year. And that, again, is an upgrade.

            Last year’s opening night roster:
            Smyth, Hall, Hemsky

            Perron, Arco, Eberle

            Joensuu, Gordon, Yak

            Brown, Acton, Gazdic

            Later the lines became

            Hall, Nuge, Eberle

            Perron, Gagner, Yak

            Smyth, Gordon, Hemsky

            ?, Acton, ? (Jones, Joensuu, Larsen, Smyth, Pitlick, Arco, all ended up playing down here at some point).

            This year the top line is the same, Gagner line replaced, Gordon line pretty much the same, rotating 4th line gone, replaced with Arco, Yak, and likely Purcell, or Perron.

            My ultimate point is, the Oilers essentially swept away an ineffective rotating fourth line, replaced it with the Gordon line, and then replaced the Gordon line with something a lot more offensive. How is that not an upgrade?

          • mithaman

            Furthermore, though he will stumble, I think Draisaitl is going to surprise some folks and not need as much ‘babying’ as you seem to suggest. Purcell is not going to be on the wing of the Gordon line. He will play in the top 9.

    • Cain

      I initially thought this combo would be best as well, but after watching Draisaitl with Perron and Poulliot essentially be the best line in training camp so far, I’m not so sold.

      To be honest, I’d rather have two very effective scoring lines and one that will struggle a little than one effective line and two ineffective ones.

      Further to that, Yak, Arco, Purcell, is still a mammoth upgrade on Jones, Acton, Gazdic. Or Brown, Acton, Gazdic. Or Larson, Smyth, Jones.

      So really, if that line is only playing ten minutes a night, and maybe Yak is getting some PP time, then that could be ok.

  • Klima's Mullet

    Ovechkin is getting pushed back to LW as a right handed shot this year…I think playing players in their natural positions should not have to do with how they shoot. Keep Yak at RW, let him learn the game there, then once he’s got a bit more figured out, move him around.

  • Cain

    Nuge Ebs and Hall are all used to playing with each other. Hall is the missile and Nuge and Ebs each bring their own little something with that line. It just works so leave that alone, Yak is a one shot scorer so why not keep him that way? Draisaitl and Perron with thei size can more then make up for Yaks shortcomings defensively. Once Yak finds those open areas in the OZ the goals will come. Eakins keeps confusing him by putting him on his weak side the kids going to bust. In the third year of his career the Oilers need to make a decision on the type of player they need him to be. He does look a bit more fluid and stronger this year on the ice, he doesnt look so herky jerky out there. You have a guy who skates better then Brett Hull and has a shot like his. Well then hell utilize it!!! Enough of this trying to turn him into a defensively safe forward take the puck into the zone and give him a clean shot at the net with it.

  • oilbaron

    If you want a LW, then go out and trade him for one. Trade him and our 1st and maybe a prospect to the Jets for Evander Kane. Oh whatever it takes to get Kane that doesnt include #4,14,93,55 or 19. Our first two forward line LW consisting of Hall and Kane sounds pretty deadly boy!

  • oilbaron

    I remember MacT trying to swing Hemmer over to the LW when we got Sykora. That didnt work out and hemmer was an older more experienced player. If the only reason for switching him to the LW is due to him being a left shooting winger sounds pretty close minded. I thought left shooting RW’s were hard to come by and very sought after due to their one-timmer being open…..At least this is what all the media was saying when the 2012 draft was taking place…..

  • Klima's Mullet

    On another note, I know it’s just preseason, but I’ve been very impressed by the play of Nuge and Schultz. I think Nuge has found another gear and it’s good to see him shooting again. Add to this Draisaitl and Poulliot’s good play, and I think the Oilers have answered some questions going into this year.

    The goal tending also looks to be greatly improved with both Scrivens and Fasth getting ready to have a battle for that number one spot. Also, it appears the goalie prospect cupboard isn’t as bare as I originally thought. Rimmer and Brousiout both look really good.

    I would say my only worry so far is how Fayne and Nikitin are doing. A lot rests on them this year and if they are faltering, turning out like Cam Barker or year two Ryan Whitney, then this year will be more of the same.

  • "Frank the dog"

    I’m hoping the late arrival of an NHL calibre Assistant isn’t too little, too late for Yak to be labeled as a bust.

    It’s been pretty obvious to the most casual observer that Yak at LW isn’t good enough to make any NHL team at this point in his career.

    We’re dealing with damaged goods, folks.

    It’s also been pretty clear that there is little if any chemistry between Yak, and Nuge or Hall. He’s at different places from where they expect him to be and so are they (at different places from where he expects them to be)

    So scratch the idea of Yak at LW, or Nuge centering Yak. There’s question marks on putting Yak on a line with Hall, at least at this stage of Yak’s development, as Hall will always attract the big dogs.

    Dr Drai is starting to look like he’s less ready than Big Bo. Also, haven’t seen the chemistry I expected between Yak and Drei.

    So Yak and Drei might work, probably has more chance than with Nuge, which leaves Big Bo. Hometown pal, same language and culture, hopefully a more similar thought process that produces more synergy.

    Were Yak not such a KHL flight risk, I’d suggest cutting him some slack and putting him wherever Big Bo goes, including the AHL for a “conditioning stint”, at least. Play him on Bo’s right wing day in, day out, and see if that recipe works.

    But if we don’t see Yak showing some offensive chops in the form of goals pretty soon, it’s starting to look like Bust City is looming up pretty fast despite the remarkable skill set he apparently has.

  • oilerjed

    @ Jonathon Willis
    I wish I could say I agree/disagree with everyones comments but in the Commie Nucks nation the OIL broadcast is being intercepted and people being beaten in the streets as examples of illegal streaming.

    Seriously when will the madness stop with blackouts!!!???

    Furthermore where is the postgame wrapup? Im out of Ed Journal articles for the next 30 days and Ill be damned if Im paying for something without boobs.

  • Jaxon

    I really don’t understand the obsession with Eberle as the team’s best RW. He is not an elite player, yet the Oilers seem to think he’s one to base the team around. He is a bad teammate (ask Gagner and former Regina Pat teammates), selfish, and cares only about his points (he still brags in the locker room about being the leading WJC scorer).

    The guy is a born loser. His career record, from WHL and NHL (not including his two short stints in the AHL) is 242-275-65. Take out his the Regina Records in his 16 & 17 year old seasons – where he was not in a leadership role – the record is 162-225-51.

    I would take a guess that a lot of Yakupov’s, and other young guys, struggles are due to Eberle constantly putting them down, highlighting their struggles, and making them feel uncomfortable. The team drafted a RW, his position, #1 and instead of including him on the team and making him feel comfortable, he helps isolate him more. Some assistant captain.

    Get rid of the guy. I almost blew my load last year when the Eberle-for-Simmonds trade rumours were blowing. That would be a steal. Addition by losing Eberle, and gaining a better player (and teammate).

    • Do what Weight did?

      I’ve never heard of Gagner or anyone else saying anything like that about Ebs. I’ve also never heard of him bragging about the WJC in the locker room. I’m sure if he did, someone would shut him up pretty quick. You know, something along the lines of “that’s great Jordan, but we’re playing against men now”. (Maybe a little more obscenity in here too)

      I don’t know if Ebs is a good teammate or not, but how on earth can you know so much and be so sure that he’s such a tool? Help me find some articles where Gags is quoted or some former Pats talk about him. Otherwise, it’s just speculation.

    • Grant

      Guess you never watched him in the world junior tournaments??
      One of the better wingers in the league and he is gonna get better.
      Try watching a few games this year.

  • oilerjed

    In those two AHL years stints, the team had losing records while he was there.

    It’s worth noting that as soon as the NHLers left OKC in the lockout year, the team dramatically improved. Is anyone else willing to consider that the group the Oilers “core” is a bunch of selfish guys who only cares about the points race, not the playoff race?

  • Quicksilver ballet

    That new 10 lbs on Hopkins has started to bear fruit. Not sure who it was (maybe Wheeler)but Ryan drove his shoulder into the sternum and de skated someone along the right wing boards last night. Knocked the guy off his skates and on his arse.

    Scored his goal lass than five minutes later.

  • "Frank the dog"

    Perron-Yakimov-Purcell, Poulliot-LD-Yak. Yak/Purcell are interchangeable and so are Poulliot/Perron in order to find the perfect chemistry.

    Very inexperienced, absolutely. But Yakimov is playing his way onto this roster and Arcobello is a perfect 13th forward.

    I hope they try this to start the season. If after 5-9 games its not working then send either LD or Yakimov down.