Picked 1st, Used Last

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Being selected 1st Overall in the NHL Entry Draft
is a major accomplishment and an acknowledgement of the potential that those
few who have been taken 1st have within them. It’s actually pretty rare that
there isn’t consensus on who the 1st pick should be. These players
dominated in their eligible years and have a combination of size, skill, and
determination to become the best in their peer groups. This year there’s Connor
McDavid. Before that it was Nate MacKinnon. The Oilers took 3 players 1st
Overall in subsequent years and selected the favourite every single year.

NUMBER 1

First they took Taylor Hall, and that was likely the most
disputed player since the divide between Hall and Seguin remained razor thin
right up until Hall’s name was called. Both are fantastic players, Seguin is
outpacing Hall today but it wasn’t that way for a long time. Then they took RNH
who was far and away the most offensively gifted player at the top of his
draft. He dominated Rookie scoring but a fluke accident robbed him of the last
quarter of the season. He is today the 1C of the Oilers and the player on the
team who has to juggle the most offensive and defensive responsibilities. Then
Edmonton selected Nail Yakupov…and they still haven’t found out how to use him.

Most 1st Overall picks land on teams with a lack
of talent. These teams have holes in their lineup and the newly minted 1st
Overall pick lands in a feature role. The Oilers, however, had already filled
the holes on the top line. Nail Yakupov wasn’t going to play ahead of Jordan
Eberle at RW. When he broke into the NHL the Oilers were still shifting vets
out of town. Horcoff, Smyth, and Hemsky were all still on the team and playing
regular minutes. Nail moved down the depth chart further.

Even as older players left or were moved the Oilers
continued to fill spots on the Wings with new bodies. David Perron came in and
had a career year. Benoit Pouliot was signed long term. The Oilers traded a
Center in Gagner for a Winger in Purcell. The team is overcrowded with wingers,
and all of them are more experienced or more highly paid than Yakupov.

 FINDING MINUTES

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It’s certainly a strange set of circumstances where a 1st
Overall pick from 2012 would find himself on the 3rd line of a bad
team in 2014.  Make no mistake though,
Nail Yakupov struggled under Dallas Eakins in his 1st year. He and
the rookie coach got off on the wrong foot and never seemed to recover last
season. Injuries, low shooting percentage, and limited minutes all seemed to
combine at once and the young man looked lost out there. This year by eye he
has certainly picked up his game. He competes in every shift, attacks the puck,
forechecks effectively, but still cant find minutes (or some luck). There were
times when he was benched for long stretches for no apparent reason. Other
times it was because the coach didn’t trust his centerman.

Being paired with Leon Draisaitl means sitting a lot, in
addition to also meaning you are tasked with more defensive responsibilities
than normal. But Draisaitl has only been an Oiler for 22 games. Here’s a stat
that I doubt a lot of former 1st Overall picks can match:

In his first 133 games, Nail Yakupov has played 18 minutes
or more in a game only 10 times.

10 times! That’s it. Assuming you’ve been safe around
mechanical equipment most of your life, you can probably count how many times
Nail Yakupov has played 18 minutes or more in a game over his ENTIRE career on
both hands.

Well what’s the breakdown? That darned Eakins is messing
with our boy Yak, right? Not really. Under Krueger Yakupov only had 2 games of
18 minutes or more. The other 8 have come under the Eakins regime. Put as a
percentage, Krueger played Yak >= 18 minutes 4.2% of the time. Eakins played
Yak >= 18 mins 9.4% of the time.

What is Edmonton’s record in those games? 3W-6L-1O, or not
very good. Then again, the Oilers since Yak has been in the NHL (actually since
before then) have been terrible so it isn’t surprising they have a losing
record. 7 points in the standings over 10 games seems par for the course for
this club. However since the sample size is so small let’s not get carried away
with extrapolation.

We should at least, however, see how Yak fared in those 10
games. In those 10 games played at 18 minutes or more, Nail Yakupov has 6G-2A-8P
on 28S and was -4 (for those who I know will ask even though +/- is a garbage
stat). He has 8 points in 10 games where he saw significant playing time.
That’s not too bad, especially considering the fact that Yak only has 54 points
in the remaining 122 games of his career.

SO?

Are 10 games worth of evidence over parts of 3 seasons
enough to make the coach up Yak’s playing time? Unlikely. But the Oilers have a
young player who was drafted with extreme potential and he’s playing a
supporting role on a bad team instead of the feature role he was cast in. His
value today is considerably lower than the day he was drafted and a lot of that
is due, I think, mainly because of his usage.

By the end of November in his first year Taylor Hall had
played more games at 18 minutes a night than Yak has in his entire career. The
same team has employed two extremely different developmental techniques when it
comes to how they’ve brought along two 1st Overall Picks who were
taken just 2 years apart from each other. Everything was gifted to Taylor Hall
and Yakupov has had to fight tooth and nail for his ice time. Their experiences
as 1st Overall picks could not be further apart from one another.

Was it the right move? I cant say that it appears as though
it has been a smooth path of development for Nail. What I can say is that I
wouldn’t be shocked to see him flourish if he suddenly finds himself in a
situation to play significant minutes either here or somewhere else.

  • PimKing

    All this talk about it was Tambo or Katz or Mac T that picked Yak… WHO CARES WHO PICKED HIM! Blaming Tambelini isnt going to fix the Oilers. Getting Yakupov playing and scoring 30 goals a year like we were hoping would happen when we drafted him does. Sitting him on the third line with Draisaitle does not help make that happen. Do what you have to do, put him on the Power play, give him the most sheltered soft offensive zone minutes we can and give him lots of them. LET THE KID DO WHAT HE DOES let him be a goal scorer. It is not going to happen overnight it will take time. But if instead of spending the year sticking it to him and letting him stew on the third line while he learns to play the “200 foot game” is shooting the oilers in the foot. You have a number one draft pick who came in as a goal scorer. Let him do that. Eakins should be fired immediately over how he has handled Nail Yakupov. Any decent management would know that is a problem that NEEDS to be resolved. You are wasting a huge asset. Trade the kid and watch him explode somewhere else.

    The oilers suck.

  • Zarny

    They have mishandled Yakupov. Get the kid scoring goals and points. Thats what he came here for. Like getting a brand new top of the line drill and being pissed you cant use as a wrench. Then trying to use it as a wrench over and over again, getting pissed of its not working and then finally ruining the drill in itself.

  • nugeformayor

    In baseball when the team is not making post season they play their rookies and see what they got.

    Oilers are already missed playoff 20 games in, Eakins should play Yakupov and Leon more. Put them in PP and PK, let them learn and adapt. Stupid stubborn coaching not willing to adapt and evolve with players they have.

    The season is gone what’s the point playing young players less than 10 mins a game?

    Eakins has issues with Kadri in Toronto, now he’s doing it to Yakupov and Leon. Yakupov was scoring and having fun when Kreuger was coaching.

    This Eakins guy is screwing up Oilers core, he’s from Toronto organization (Marlies). Oilers are paying him to learn coaching in NHL, he’s not a good coach.

    Eakins benching Justin Schultz tonight game because he screwed up on line change last game vs Stars led to a goal. It’s the coaching’s fault not the player’s fault from watching the flow of the game. Players are tired end of shift and they don’t see the ice like from the bench.

    Oilers will lose tonight 5-2 again, same old script.

  • PimKing

    Eberle has had some real sh*t games, so move in Yak for at least a week, see if they can gel. Then it’ll make Ebbs work harder to get back his spot or you can trade him for the dman we so badly need.

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    It does NOT matter who’s decision it was to draft Nail. He is ours now and we should try and make him succeed just like the other two CANADAIN born 1st over all.s Lets not forget he was a consensus number 1 so he is not slouch. He has never been treat like the other two in ice time and his leash has always been short. Eakins has been unaccountable in his treatment with players. one small step forward tonight with schultz watching from above.

  • Zarny

    They seriously should trade yak. He’s not being used and you know what, NOT EVERY 1st overall picks work out. Look at the nordiques/avalanche, they had 3 first overall picks and literally traded every single one of them not even 10 years into their career, and in trading those pieces they set up a great team with balanced depth etc. trading yak must happen especially if we are gunna be drafting mcdavid or eichel.