The saying goes that a coach’s only currency with his players is ice time. I believe that to be true. I’m also of the mind how that currency is handed out by the guy in control of the money bag should reasonably reflect how any given player is performing.

It shouldn’t be given as a favor. It shouldn’t be handed out just because a player is such-and-such or so-and-so or because the player and his agent might sulk and get pissed off because, in their estimation, they aren’t getting enough. If that’s the case, too bad. Suck it up butter cup. Play better.

I’m a bit puzzled, then, with the way, and how often, Edmonton Oilers coach Dallas Eakins has been deploying right winger Nail Yakupov so far this season. While Eakins has more than once praised Yakupov for making an effort to round out his game and be more reliable defensively, the ice time Yakupov is getting in return doesn’t reflect what he’s saying.

Yakupov, 21, faces the Carolina Hurricanes tonight sitting 10th among Oiler forwards in time on ice per game at 12:52. He’s ninth in ESTOI per game at 10:54 and seventh in PPTOI per game at 1:57. He’s getting less ice time per game in his third season than he did as a rookie, 14:34, or last season, 14:19.



“He’s come such a long way. There were times last year where there was maybe a misunderstanding of where he should be in the D zone,” Eakins said of Yakupov Oct. 3. “I have no qualms about him in our defensive zone this year.”

Added Eakins: “He’s learned a ton. He continues to ask questions. His relationship with our staff is amazing. I don’t think we have to worry too much about the amount of D zone starts Yak gets. He can play in his own end, he’s shown that through camp.”

From where I sit — it should be obvious from what I’ve written in the past I’m not the president of the Nail Yakupov Booster Club — that assessment doesn’t line up with decreased ice time for Yakupov over previous seasons through his first seven games.

Yes, Yakupov is still prone to mistakes. He’s a work in progress, not a first-line player. Yes, at times he’s ridden shotgun for rookie Leon Draisaitl, who is ninth in overall ice time at 12:55 per game, so that’s had an impact. Likewise, trying to find the most favorable zone starts for a given line, match-ups and circumstances in each game play into it, as Eakins has explained.

“My only thought going into the game is to win the hockey game,” Eakins said in a recent interview with Reid Wilkens of 630 CHED. “This is about our team. I know there’s a lot of chatter out there about individuals ice time, this is about our team.

“The team. The team. The team every time. You guys can talk about guy’s ice times. We’ve got guys that are improved this year and playing less, we’ve got guys that are improved and playing more. There are situational things that happen on the ice, you guys can read whatever you want into it. I’m not talking about a guy’s individual ice time, I’ll talk to you about our team.” 



While his decreasing ice time this season might have turned into a soap opera – or another call from agent Igor Larionov — a year ago, Yakupov has framed the situation as well as you can reasonably expect. No sulking. He’s been upbeat while waiting for the next tap on the shoulder.

“Of course I’m worried about it and of course I want to play more,” Yakupov said. “I hope it’s just the first games and I’ll get more minutes. I’d like to play more. I don’t want to sit on the bench. I’d like to play more minutes and help my team, play good both ways. That’s why I worked hard in the summer, to be a good two-way forward.”

I’m not of the mind that Eakins “is screwing Yakupov over” as some hardcore Yak Backers and conspiracy theorists have suggested, but I’d like to see Yakupov rewarded for his efforts to round-out his game – remaining flaws and all – and the positive approach he’s taken so far. 

For the good of the team and the player, be it Yakupov or anybody else, there has to be a connection between performance and ice time. Surely, in Yakupov’s case, Eakins can find an extra shift here or an added look on the power play there to bump his ice time up.

So far, we aren’t seeing it.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.


    I’ve found that at time Eberle has looked dis-interested and ineffective. I wouldn’t mind seeing Yak thrown on the ice for a shift or two when that happens. Also if the energy level of the opponents starts lul a bit during the game I would throw Yak out there in Hendricks place every once in a while just to see what happens.

    I also think it would be nice if we could have Leon playing wing for this season on a line with a Vet center. It seemed to help Segiun in his first season just get used to the game and see how a seasoned pro does it.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    Yaks the man… Fourth in team scoring playing 12 minutes a night…

    Lead the team in scoring as a rookie…

    “I think Nail has matured,” said Eakins. “But even last year I never thought he was about himself. He’s always been about the team.”

    Still is.

    “If you’re going to be selfish I don’t think you’re going to win,” said Yakupov, who knows he doesn’t have to be a human highlight reel to succeed in the NHL. “You don’t have to be fancy, you don’t have to show something crazy all the time but if you’re going to work hard and be focused I think the good things should come.”

    I didn’t realize Canadians were so racist toward Russians, but since Yaks been drafted it’s become pretty clear.

  • Craig1981

    I dont get what is wrong running Yak on a line with Nuge, then run Hall-Arco-Ebs and play around with that third winger until you find the right chemistry to fill that spot with Nuge and Yak.
    Hall and Ebs can drive the ship on that line, Arco can keep up and wil be defensively responsible.
    Nuge and Yak together would be a deadly combo. Gives the oilers 2 solid lines instead of one.

    • Serious Gord

      Given that too. We can send down Leon, move up the gordon line to #3. Make a plug and play fourth line Put Lander in the middle of Gazdic and Westgrath and have a strictly insurance policy on our young guys line.

  • Concur

    With Eberle playing hurt he should be moved down the depth chart and Yakupov minutes should increase. Having Eberle with Pouliot would be ideal to provide him a little size on his line for protection.


    Just a thought, maybe the fans can start supporting Yak by chanting “Yak” like they do the Nuge. I think it would go along way and bolster these guys. A “Hallsy” chant now and then would be nice also, (He is the leading scorer year in and out!).

  • The Last Big Bear

    Since we’ve had a new coach every year since 1884 I can’t remember who did this, but earlier in Hall’s career he’d get thrown randomly on the 4th line for a shift or two per game to get him more ice. Maybe that’s a good way to get Yak up to 14 mins/game.

    The Gordon line has been our most consistent possession line but they don’t capitalize on many chances. Why not replace Joensuu or Hendricks when they have a favorable match up and see if Yak can turn some of those chances into goals?

    • That’s one way and it’s one that’s been utilized before in the kind of situations you cite. Even a partial shift in that situation makes sense.

      One extra shift per period equates to an extra 1:30-2:00 per game and bumps Yakupov up in the area of his previous two seasons. Assuming he continues to play as he has, that seems reasonable to me.

    • Zarny

      Jeeze tough crowd here…Judging from all the thumbs down I reckon Oiler Nation wants to loose tonight…You know McDavid and or Eichel would immediately become our best player right? Anyway I hope that Calgary doesn’t get either of them.

  • If Eakins is still teaching Yak as much as I think he is, the best way to work in new habits with athletes is not to over-work them until the muscle memory is established. If Eakins ups Yak’s minutes and he starts to fail (when reaching his upper physiological limits) all the good changes they’re working on will take way longer to get established.

  • Kevwan

    Just a product of now going with 4 functional lines. No more 5 minute/ game 4th line, its a good thing but it just means less minutes to go around. First line is always going to get its 20-25 min.

    He’ll get more minutes soon enough.

  • After three years I can’t believe with all the mess on this team Yakupov’s name still comes up?

    I’m a huge supporter of this guy and I also realize that not all players progress in a straight line.

    Having said that i’m of the belief that Yakupov has to get traded.

    MSM has not stopped finding some obscure junk to talk about this 20 year old kid.

    Here we are, another season with A JR prospect who shouldn’t be in the NHL.

    Eberle arguable just as bad as Yakupov defensively this year.

    Shultz being a good offensive defensmen but terrible in his own end

    A goaltending tandem who’s SV % was somewhere in the 800’s

    A gapping hole down the middle of the ice

    No top pairing defensmen

    Ference and N.N actually getting ice time over Klefbom

    Now, I’m not singling RB out here, I’m lumping the whole MSM community in here.

    Some positives about Yakupov but he’s far from the story that is the Oilers.

    I just think this kid would be able to play hockey without the constant questions about his development, which should be left to the coach or GM.

  • Sevenseven

    Considering how bad the Hurricanes are, I think tonight would be ideal to try Yak on the top line. Imo he has outplayed ebs. Giving ebs less minutes to help him heal up seems like sound roster management to me.

  • Ogie Oilthorpe

    I think the real issue is having to shelter 2 lines. Get Leon back to Jr. for one more year, bring in a vet center and Yak gets more ice on a legit #2 line.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Yakupov “he’s learned a ton” my arse. Eakins is obviously still learning on the fly also. Learning about more positive language to apply to up and coming players. Did he actually think the Oilers would allow Dallas to continue to soil that first overall asset? Smart move by Eakins to alter his opinion of his players play this season and extened his time as coach here.

    With Nail still playing the nomad in this lineup, i’d give him a cameo/couple weeks of playing in the middle. Stamkos is doing great as a shooter playing in that center ice role. Ask Yak about his thoughts on it. He can still one time pucks at the goalies head from the slot. What have they got to lose during this wandering in the desert season anyways. A time will come (injuries) they might just be desperate enough to try a firewagon move like this. He certainly has the quickness for a move such as this. Perhaps there’s and unexpected surprise waiting for them. Hold on….off the goalies head and in still counts, right?

    My out of the box thinking moment for the 4-5 pm segment.

      • When was the last time Yakupov played center?

        Anyone, Anyone, Bueller???

        I don’t want to see this experiment? Hyothetically, you wanna mess with stuff, play Hall there while there is truely competant wingers, but even then I’d keep the rookie there before Hall.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        When there’s this many holes in a lineup. Is there ever really a bad time, since our Oilers are a no doubter non playoff team anyways? Players are often drafted at a certain position only to succeed playing another position in the NHL.

        Leon poo poohs this idea by potting a hat trick this evening against the Hurricane*

        *Hurricanes are ALWAYS hundreds or even thousands of miles apart. The thought of 20 (Hurricanes) being in a 60 yard radius this evening is impossible to say the least. Don’t be fooled by the plural……and this is an indoor game to boot.

    • Anton CP

      Yak in the middle is not out of the box thinking. It’s out of your mind thinking. You have to be watching these games thru the bottom of a beer bottle. Yak can barely understand the defense assignment as a winger and you want him to play center. That would get Eakins fired. Yes he is playing better but when you were terrible doesn’t take much to be better. The media and everyone should quit talking about Yaks ice time. He’s playing about the right minutes. I would like to see Perrons ice time bumped up first.

  • nuge2drai

    Is Eberle playing hurt and 20 minutes per game a better option than a healthy Yak? Not a chance. eakins needs to be able to adjust and adapt on the fly, something his still have problems with.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Not even through the easy part of their schedule, Eberle and Hopkins aren’t 100%. Injuries will continue to mount, and if that doesn’t doom them….poor coaching decisions could further compound the damage.

      Something wicked awaits them when the month of October concludes. It will be far from sweet.

  • nuge2drai

    Could be a titanic struggle tonight . Leagues worst defence for goals against (Oilers) vs. Carolina’s offence without the Stall’s . Could come down to goaltending and overtime to decide a winner . Don’t see a blowout like they had against the Flames . Hope we prevail 3-2 .

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I think Oilers have bigger issues than Yak’s
    play and progress. This young guy does not need this fan and media pressure. God, every other write up is about Yak etc.

    Maybe Yak should have a few turns on the First PP squad, instead of Eberle, see how that works out.Although might be a problem , because
    Hall likes to shoot one timers from his off wing., same side as Yak.

  • Zarny

    Yakupov’s ice time thru 7 games has been 14:07, 9:50, 14:01, 13:24, 14:29, 10:47 and 13:27.

    His average is skewed by 2 games. The first on the road in Van with a ton of penalties and Eakins sheltering Draisaitl. The second was a must win game or else Eakins may literally lose his job. I think we know how much Dallas truly trusts Yak.

    As for the media comments, why would Eakins accentuate the positives to help build Yak’s confidence and avoid the type of negative press we saw last year? It’s not like Yak needs his tires pumped or his confidence back.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Some claim he is better defensively this season. Maybe there’s room for him and this acumen gentleman you spoke of in his game, no? He could be one of the few Russian who develop into a complete player like the Fedorovs of the world.

      2 1/2 yrs on this team and he’s still not found a home in this lineup. All conventional wisdom has appeared to have failed. Why can’t they try something unconventional?

      Happy weekend you hoser. Glad you haven’t given up on the Oilers yet.

  • camdog

    Yakopov needs to play with an NHL calibre 2 way centre. Unfortunately he hasn’t had this player to play with since Horcoff left town. If the Oilers make a move and find that centre, Yakopov well get the ice time.

  • Zarny

    RB, I’m generally a big fan of your articles and I find you as the most objective of the ON writers with respect to Oil management. Your the new Willis. As I read this article I was wondering if it wouldn’t have been a bit more concise to just say “Eakins is a really bad coach and could potentially do long term damage between the Oilers and one of our #1 overall pics”?