What Kind of Player Will Nail Yakupov Become?

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Few questions matter more to the current edition of the Edmonton Oilers than the one regarding Nail Yakupov’s future. Coming off a terrible year, is he a draft bust in the making or is he a player with extraordinary potential who just had things go sideways?

What does history suggest?

To try and answer that question, I looked back at 20-year-old forwards over the lockout era (1994-95 to present) who posted similar scoring numbers to those run up by Yakupov this season. I then further refined the list by shots-per-game to eliminate players who fired the puck much more (e.g. Phil Kessel) or much less (e.g. Henrik Sedin) than Yakupov.

For interest’s sake, I also included other players the same age as Yakupov who had similar results this season, and to make comparison either projected all totals over a full 82-game season.

The Best Case Scenario

Player Season G A PTS Shots SH%
Jamie Benn 2009-10 22 19 41 182 12.1
Marian Hossa 1998-99 21 20 41 169 12.1
Patrick Marleau 1999-00 17 23 40 163 10.6
Mika Zibanejad 2013-14 19 20 39 182 10.5
Daniel Sedin 2000-01 22 15 37 139 15.7
Corey Perry 2005-06 19 18 37 144 13.3
Joffrey Lupul 2003-04 14 23 37 150 9.5
James van Riemsdyk 2009-10 16 21 37 182 8.7
Jarome Iginla 1997-98 15 22 37 180 8.4
Jonathan Huberdeau 2013-14 11 23 34 128 8.3
Alex Frolov 2002-03 15 18 33 146 9.9
Boone Jenner 2013-14 18 15 33 145 12.6
Nail Yakupov 2013-14 14 17 31 159 9.0
Nikita Kucherov 2013-14 14 14 28 161 8.8
Zemgus Girgensons 2013-14 9 16 25 135 7.0

That’s a pretty nice list of players. Benn, Hossa, Marleau, Sedin, Perry and Iginla highlight an impressive group of forwards who were able to recover from a less-than-impressive 20-year-old campaign.

Yakupov is toward the bottom of the list, but it’s worth noting his shooting percentage – at 9.0 percent one of the worst totals among these forwards. I think we can safely call Yakupov a high-end shooter based simply on watching the games; if we were to credit him with (for example) Perry’s shooting percentage he would have scored at a 21-goal pace and be sitting near the top of this list.

It isn’t unrealistic to think he could develop into a brilliant offensive player, given some of the names on this list.

The Worst Case Scenario

Player Season G A PTS Shots SH%
Peter Mueller 2008-09 15 26 41 157 9.4
Mika Zibanejad 2013-14 19 20 39 182 10.5
Sergei Krivokrasov 1994-95 24 14 38 144 16.7
Todd Harvey 1995-96 11 24 35 120 8.9
Jonathan Huberdeau 2013-14 11 23 34 128 8.3
Boone Jenner 2013-14 18 15 33 145 12.6
Mattias Tedenby 2010-11 11 20 31 123 9.2
Nail Yakupov 2013-14 14 17 31 159 9.0
Rostislav Olesz 2005-06 11 18 29 146 7.6
Alexandre Daigle 1995-96 8 20 28 126 6.5
Nikita Kucherov 2013-14 14 14 28 161 8.8
Kris Beech 2001-02 10 16 26 131 7.9
Zemgus Girgensons 2013-14 9 16 25 135 7.0
Brad Isbister 1997-98 11 10 21 143 7.8

Hey, look, it’s Alexandre Daigle! And Kris Beech, who was once traded for Jaromir Jagr! Plus, Albany Devils sniper Mattias Tedenby!

It would be unfair to say that Yakupov is tracking like a draft bust; just as with the best case list these names were cherry-picked to provide the worst possible contrast. But it wouldn’t be wrong to say that’s not not tracking like a draft bust.

Gambling

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At one end of the scale, we know that future Hart Trophy winners had 20-year-old seasons in which they scored as poorly as Yakupov. We also know that some of the worst draft busts in history had 20-year-old seasons in which they scored as poorly as Yakupov.

It’s up to the player and the coaches to find a way to arrive at the former rather than the latter outcome, to channel Yakupov’s raw talent into a form where he can be a difference-maker for the team. 

Dallas Eakins 9

In a lot of ways, I think that’s one of the main points history is going to judge Dallas Eakins on – if he loses Yakupov (though to be honest, most of Yakupov’s problems predate Eakins’ arrival), if he can’t find a player in there, it’s going to be a massive blow to the team and an indictment of his abilities as a teachingcoach. On the other hand, if Yakupov emerges as a major asset for the Oilers, that will say something significant, too.

At this point it could go either way.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Jason Gregor

    JW,

    Why is it safe to call him a high-end shooter? I actually believe people have overrated that for Yakupov.

    When he connects on a one-timer he can pound it, no doubt, but great, or even very good onetimers rarely miss the puck. They miss the net, but they make contact. Yakupov can fire it if the pass is in his sweet spot, but he has yet to show the ability of great one-timers (Ovechkin, Kurri, Hull) that he can connect regardless of where the pass is.

    It isn’t a knock on him, just an observation that many in Edmonton have overrated his shooting skills thus far. No doubt he can fire the puck, but he isn’t very consistent yet. I’m sure he will improve, but his scoring stats have yet to match the hype surrounding his shot or shooting ability.

    • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

      Gregor nailed it…no pun intended….I would add that he doesn’t yet even have the skill to get the shot off that well…in tight spaces, finding the shooting lane, using screens, etc…..all skills that a guy like David Perron has today.

      Yak is young and worth being patient with…but his shooting skills got over-hyped out of training camp in year one and it has continued on to this day.

      • ~ Ya! While we’re at it RNH is overrated too, he is nowhere near as complete or consistent at passing like Gretzky – Lemieux – Oates……..~

        So, how over-hyped is leading your team in goal scoring and shooting percentage your first year?

        It would the equivalent of saying Ryan Smyth was over-hyped after his first full year, Smyth went on to have two off years.

        TUG is right, it’s a straw man argument.

        • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

          If you think Yak has lived up to expectations based on either skill set or results give your head a shake. He’s clearly under performing by anyone’s standards…looked lost out there most of this season.

          Now we can debate why…coaching, line mates etc….but his shooting skills were over-hyped and his overall play has been under-achieving……why else would we be having this conversation?

          The premise of JW’s article above is “Coming off a terrible year, is he a draft bust in the making or is he a player with extraordinary potential who just had things go sideways? “

    • Those are HHOF goal scores and shooter for Pete Sakes…….WOW!!

      That’s not at all realistic comparison.

      Furthermore, all those players were at or already over the age of 20. Two of those players played in their respective pro leagues before coming to the NHL.

      Also, two of these players played in the highest scoring era of all time.

    • paul wodehouse

      …y’all trash JG for telling his truth about this yet to be bona fide NHL ice hockey player?

      …has he fallen victim to not so good coaching ? possibly … has he handled the pressure of falling victim to not so good coaching? (see lead picture) possibly … part of me says he’s got great trade value …so again … I say get Couturier…64 plus a prospect Dman…a second in return and bingo y’got your big 2C!

      draft Draisaitl and you have your big 3C…

    • Krusher

      While you make a solid point, a one timer is likely not the only way he will score. A good one timer is also not the only indicator of an accurate shot. I think you’re cherry picking a bit.

      He shot 12% in the KHL and while its not the NHL I don’t think you can just ignore it. Most goal scorers will tell you they just get it off quick and hit the net. Yakupov has that ability. Plus its hard.

      Time will tell.

      • Jason Gregor

        SH% isn’t the point. I wasn’t cherry picking. Great shooters can beat you in multiple ways. How many goals does he score off the wing?

        Did he consistently over power goalies with his shot?

        I have an article that is almost finished discussing this, and so far he isn’t a dominant shooter like many in Edmonton call him. SH% has nothing to do with it. Last year he was 21%, what does that mean?

        Morrow, Bozak and Stajan had three highest SH% of players with 55+ games. Are they dominant shooters?

        I don’t see why you correlate SH% to whether or not Yak is a dominant one-timer or a scary shooter. At this point he isn’t. He might become one, but he is not a great finisher at this point in his career.

        • Lofty

          While I would agree with you, I still think his shot is a great one. Overall though, he is a great playmaker and has made some unreal passes in his day. Let’s not forget the WJC when he had 0 goals and 9 assists.

          Overall, for this organization to give up on this player would be ridiculous. That would be way too impatient a move, and we’d be acting like the leafs. Spector has an article where at the end he asks, how good would the leafs be if they didn’t trade Steen, Rask, and the pick that turned into Seguin…I’m sure they have other examples too. Patience is required with young guys. The issue is that management is relying on the youth so heavily that Yakupov (and Hall/Ebs/Nuge earlier in their career) are put into positions where they’re relied upon to play both good offense and good 2 way play. How about some vets to rely on…Surely Smytty couldn’t be the only one…oh yeah he’s gone…that leaves…Gordon?

          • Jason Gregor

            Never debated he has a hard shot. But that doesn’t make him a great shooter yet is all I’m saying.

            The organization hasn’t given up on him at all. Eakins spent more time with him than any oth6er player. They are trying to improve how he thinks the game. It is hard to do at NHL level. Quicker reactions all over the ice.

            I don’t see Oilers giving up on him, and only way I see them trade him is if they get a legitimate, proven, veteran D-man who is 25-28 so he will be an impact player when Oilers are competitive.

          • Jason Gregor

            How many goals has he scored off this supposed great shot.

            I said he isn’t a great shooter, my main point has nothing to do with velocity of shot. Production is not there, nor is consistency. And great shooters have more than just a one-timer.

          • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

            He scored more goals as a rookie than anyone else on the team last season?

            He’s had an off-year full of injuries, being benched for mistakes when no other player was, and having to play with Gagner.

            He shot 21% last season and 9% this season, both likely being rather at the extreme ends of his abilities. 12-14% should be his range.

            In addition to his one-timer he’s also got a very fast and powerful wrister.

          • So you chose a straw man to attack. Nobody claims he has been productive or consistent, just that he has a wicked shot.

            Imagine you tell me about a pitcher’s great arm because he has a 99mph fastball with nice movement and I disagree that he has a good arm because he’s a 20 year old with consistency problems.

          • Jason Gregor

            Never attacked anyone, seems that you and most Yak supporters feel that pointing out the truth is some sort of crime. I stated that too many people claim he is a great shooter, and at this point he isn’t. You can proclaim him to be great because he unleashes a good onetimer now and again, but that doesn’t make it so.

            The comparison to a great pitcher made no sense, because it is more than just inconsistency at this point.

            You don’t have to agree, but don’t get melodramatic and proclaim I attacked him. Pointing out facts and telling people to lower their expectations isn’t a big deal. He likely will become a solid scorer, but stating he is great now and automatically will be is just setting him up for failure.

          • Never attacked anyone,

            You don’t have to agree, but don’t get melodramatic and proclaim I attacked him.

            I have to assume you either don’t know what a straw man is or you just saw the word attack and went on the defensive without reading anything else.

            You can proclaim him to be great because he unleashes a good onetimer now and again, but that doesn’t make it so.

            stating he is great now and automatically will be is just setting him up for failure.

            Where did I do this? Nobody has done this. You have confused tools with the ability to use them. He can have a great shot without being a great shooter, which is why the pitcher comparison is bang on.

            Pitchers are out there with amazing arms who get shelled regularly, just as there are hockey players with great shots who aren’t scoring.

            Yakupov has a great shot in his toolbox, and you are trying to argue that he doesn’t possess that tool because he doesn’t score. Guess what, we all know he isn’t scoring.

            ie. You are apparently writing a piece based entirely on rebutting a position NOBODY has taken.

        • Nuge&Connorvs.Sam&Sean

          I agree with Gregor to a certain extent. The hype re: Yak’s shot has certainly exceeded the actual product. However, I believe it is more due to his inability to release it at the correct times – he just hasn’t figured out his NHL timing yet. It sure would be great to have a mentor…

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    Yak will be a perrenial 30+ goal scorer with a proven high end non smurf center.

    Gagner is too slow to dump and chase and too small to cycle.

    Look what Spezza did for Hemsky.

    Yak will also learn to back check its not rocket science. I’m sure he’s cheating to create offense because his center is useless and the teams always down.

    Russian players only get negative media attention if any for some reason – such a shame.

  • Jason Gregor

    As other posters have already mentioned. I think its imperative they get him back on track THIS season. Gagner as his Center is only adding to the problem. Ideally we could find him a solid Russian to help mentor him along. At least a Center or opposite wing to guide him somewhat?

    It seems like he needs to be shown the timing and patience of the game . At times it looks like his body is moving faster then his brain which could be great at times but mostly gets him out of position to capitalize.

  • Lofty

    His confidence was pretty much ruined from day 1. People will comment on his puck luck last year but he was also running high with confidence. You can’t measure confidence. He was finding space. This year was the opposite. Maybe Eakins system didn’t allow him to find space since he’s worrying about other things? I dont know. Playing third and fourth line doesn’t help either.

    I think he will still have some inconsistencies in the scoring department and be a streaky scorer. Kind of like kessel early on with more feistiness of course. But if he ends up 30 and 30 I’ll be pumped. Last thing we should do is sell low on the kid and have him burn us. People should look up smyttys point totals early on, we didn’t give up after a couple bad seasons.

    Fans can’t expect nail to be like hall. Different players. Give yakupov some timetable adjust. He obviously can score, we’ve seen it. Now it’s up to coach and management to get it out consistently.

    Bringing in a 2 way centre and a big winger would help. For example, gagner for anisimov (add a pick if need be). Trade the 2015 first and prospect for niño if Minnie wants vanek. Similar to how we scored Perron.

    Niño-anisimov-yakupov is a hell of a line. Let draisaitl/ekblad/bennet develop. Preferably draisaitl.

  • S cottV

    Fans need to be patient with Yak. He’s only 20 years old and he got screwed out of the Calder last year. I’m willing to wait and see what happens with him.

      • dougtheslug

        Who cares?

        Watching Seguin and Landeskog in the playoffs, I’m not so sure the Oilers even drafted the right players. The margin between Seguin and Hall is pretty thin right now, but Seguin has been developing at a phenomenal rate, and is set to pass Hall next year unless something changes pronto with the Oilers stellar coaching group.

        On the other hand, Landeskog is a beast, and is miles ahead of RNH right now, not just in productivity and consistency, but in leadership and toughness. Watching Avs vs Wild tonight is a revelation. And we sure missed the boat with the timing of our suckiness – MacKinnon vs Yak? It makes me weep with frustration and envy.

        Look at these teams tonight, with sparkling top 2 lines, hardworking bottom six forwards. Decent d men – and Colorado finished behind the Oil in the standings last year. How did they do it?

        And the Oil stumble from bad to worse and MacT tells everybody, “don’t worry, be happy, the heavy lifting is done, we’re right on schedule.” Does he even believe his own words?

        I have to turn the TV off – it makes me sick watching real hockey, knowing what this management group has pieced together over the last 8 years, and what we have to look forward to for the next 8, with Lowe and Katz in charge.

        • Reg Dunlop

          2 trashes. Proof that Lowe and Katz visit the Nation. Otherwise,truer words have not been uttered here, bravo.

          I also wish to respond to those who see no problem with the ‘young guns’ choosing to skip representing their country at the worlds. Do you think that having 25 weeks to prepare for next season rather than 23 is a big advantage? Do you really think they will be hitting the gym rather than the nightclubs in the next few weeks? I am embarrassed as an oil fan by entitled kids acting like they are above such mundane chores as representing Canada.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Let Nail help the power play and the power play will help Nail. How could you not use his one-timer? If he gets some confidence from the power play his overall game will improve. The handling of the power play this year might have been the biggest disappointment (even worse than goalie play). But it is fixable. Acknowledge the problem and fix it. Which coach is responsible for power play plan? Might want to replace with a known assistant/associate coach with those skills.

    • Nuge&Connorvs.Sam&Sean

      Agree with you wholeheartedly, but the Oil might have the answer internally! I said it before but I’ll say it again…..Yak (Yakimov)to Yak (Yakupov) & it’s in the back! Would be nice. 🙂

      • NJ

        YakiMOv had 7 goals and 5 assists this year in the KHL (33 Games I think)… while he’s tracking okay for a 3rd rounder, I would suggest he will not be the answer for a few years yet.

        I’d love to see if Buffalo would be interested in moving Mikhael Grigorenko. There is a frayed relationship there and even though he hasn’t shown well in his 43 games in the NHL, maybe him and Yak would hit it off. He probably could be gotten for relatively cheap (Gagner and a good prospect with us eating salary)… it’s random but he’s a big center that might fit here. Plus… Russians can handle the cold.

        While I’m not interested in another “russian attitude” per se, it might be an interesting move if Buffalo would bite.

          • NJ

            I’m sorry, I don’t see a problem with that. Was there a point?

            Facts are, relationships sour between players and teams sometimes. Usually that allows for another team to step in and take advantage. I have no idea if Buffalo would bite on either Grigorenko or Myers, but there’s absolutely no harm in trying. Beats dreaming about Statsny UFA signings or Weber trades.

    • Krusher

      Lofty is right. I typically like Willis’ articles the best, but the glaring omission is who he played with and usage while on the ice. Tough to compare those aspects to whose on list, but should be considered.

      Organizational need #1 is a second top end centre….. centre depth period, and a debate like this probably doesn’t even happen.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    If Eakins can help the likes of Hall, Eberle, RNH, and Shultz get better defensively next season, then I won’t blame the coach if Yakupov doesn’t.

    I want Nail to succeed with the Oilers and see him getting back to the 20 goal range next season, I also want to see his all around game get better, the team needs all the help it can get at both ends of the ice, but if Nail won’t learn defense then send him packing.

      • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

        Relax, my friend. I’m not making fun, in fact it’s the opposite: I love Yak’s interviews and I think he’s one of the only players worth listening to. I was referring to how excitable he is. The fact that he has a tenuous grasp of English is just a bonus.

      • nuge2drai

        Don’t be so PC. the comment is pointing out the unique abundance of pure unadulterated joy Nail has. His post Stanley interview would be one of the greatest things any Oiler fan could ever see. Pure love of winning in the moment of absolute victory, combined with some light ESL.

        GONail

        We want win with you!