Nail Yakupov is the wild card the Oilers have up their sleeve. The problem is they don’t really know what kind of a wild card he is. He could be a strong offensive force and be a legit NHL scoring weapon. He could also be a streaky player with defensive lapses like we saw last season.
He is capable of more production, and having more awareness for a two way game. It takes effort to help out on the back check, and understanding where to be defensively. If he can improve, which Eakins thinks he has, his ice time will go up as will the quality of that ice time. The real question is: who does he play with?
As far as I see, Leon Draisaitl has earned the right to start the season with the Oilers. I’m still not sold on him being here for the entire year, though. Young players should have to earn their spot, rather than be slotted in and hoping that it works out. It’s hard to be a second line centre in the NHL. The Oilers will be asking a lot from Draisaitl if he stays with the big club all season. However, a duo of Draisaitl and Yak could look good in the future.
Their skill sets compliment each other. There could be some real chemistry between them and success to follow, but this season is not the time for that. That duo, most likely paired with Perron or Pouliot, will have some very rough patches as they learn how to play in the NHL. Draisaitl cannot be asked to hold up a line defensively. Opposing teams will target this duo on the road and will have success against them. If you are prepared to live with some tough nights, then put them together. It’s too early for my appetite.
Boyd Gordon does what you expect from his type of player. I loved the signing when it was announced. Gordon is not a hugely offensive player, so he and Yakupov are not really an option. They think and play the game totally different. Having these two together would hamper the others ability to execute their roles. Gordon and Yakupov should not become a duo.
WHO IS LEFT?
That leaves Yakimov, Lander and Arcobello as options to centre Yakupov. Yakimov has been impressive during training camp. He is a big body with a nice skill set. He has also been one of the better centres, but he should not play eight minutes per night in the NHL when he can play eighteen in OKC. He will get PP and PK time there. The best thing for him is to play a bunch in the AHL. Why rush it? Two rookie centres in the Western Conference would be very difficult to manage.