Two games into the NHL season, Nail Yakupov looks better in every
discipline. He’s faster, more aggressive, drives to the net, passes with
aplomb, is defensively aware to the point of shocking, and despite
manic movement has slowed down enough to allow gaps and lanes to form.
I’ve always preached patience with this player, and maturation is
certainly part of the improvement.
I think there are two other
things we should acknowledge: The player working hard and smart, and the
coach creating an environment where learning and productivity are
possible. I’m sure Dallas Eakins handles each player a little
differently, but the number one item on his agenda in terms of getting
more out of players was Yakupov. Last season at this time, the situation
was close to eruption. One year later, well, it’s worlds apart.
Yakupov’s goal on Saturday in Vancouver was the usual for him: Thrilling drive to
the net and a quick shot for a goal. He’s faster this season, as
determined but more of a threat, and I do think at some point in the
year we’re going to see him on the 1line. No disrespect to Jordan
Eberle, but the talent level with this player is extremely high, and if
Hall-Nuge-Yak spend 20 games together the mind boggles with the
Craig MacTavish: “Let me
tell you about Yak. He is an unbelievable kid. He is a hard-working,
very solid individual – and he’ll get there. It’s going to take time,
the way it does for all kids, but hockey’s important to him, very
important to him. So he’s not vilified internally, I can tell you.” Source
During the RE series,
we discussed Yakupov’s defensive issues as learning at the NHL
level—always a difficult thing to do—and using his linemates when in the
- I’ve never seen it expressed
anywhere, but it seems his junior career (and possibly before) didn’t
involve a lot of structure. Yakupov’s defensive role (he’s a winger) is
not rocket science. I think the major concern of the coaching staff has
to do with doing less solo work with the puck, to be honest.
what I’m seeing, as well as the work effort to get back and cover. Nail
is using his linemates better, putting them in a position to take the
puck on the fly, or quickly return it. The game is slowing down for him,
and that’s good news for the Oilers and us (the fans).
Jonathan Willis:#10 Nail Yakupov, 7. He
didn’t earn an assist on the play, but Yakupov made critical plays in
both the offensive and the defensive zone in the leadup to Hunt’s 1-0
goal… couldn’t quite get the puck but finished a hard hit in the corner
of the offensive zone… drove hard to the net and took the puck with him,
making it a 3-1 game early in the second… created an offensive zone
turnover off Dan Hamhuis and put a dangerous shot on net… made a great
move on Radim Vrbata in the offensive zone to draw a tripping penalty in
the dying minutes of the third… made a lovely defensive play in
overtime to neutralize the negative effects of a Schultz turnover… he
played less than 10 minutes but made them all count; he looks like a
different player (in a good way) in all three zones than the guy we saw
It’s two games, and kids don’t develop in a straight line. Still, with a young man of Nail’s talent level, the cream usually rises to the top. That could be what we’re seeing this season, and if it happens Oiler fans will have to increase their expectations of player and team.
Nail Yakupov is on his way to being a bona fide NHL player. That’s a very good thing.