Welcome to the third line, Nail Yakupov

Nail Yakupov2

In a long, wide-ranging interview with the Edmonton Jouranl’s Jim Matheson, Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish described Nail Yakupov as a third-line player.

This will doubtless be controversial. It shouldn’t be, because that’s exactly where the player should slot in on the organizational depth chart today.

The Quote

Craig MacTavish3

Matheson: “From the outside, it looks like you have good top-six forwards and excellent character guys like Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon, who were maybe playing a little higher up in the batting order than they should have been. Could you use some third-line guys with some offensive touch?”

MacTavish: “Yup. That’s fair. Much like Chicago’s got where they have three lines of offensive guys and a fourth line that can play against anybody. That’s what we’d really like to do. We need (Anton) Lander to step up and (Mark) Arcobello, or add a free-agent forward or two who can compete for those jobs. Maybe somebody who could come in and be a good fit with Yak (Nail Yakupov on the third line). We have the first line (Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle). If we can draft a guy at centre who can play, then we’d have that guy, Perron and Sam or some form of that.”

The Chicago Model

Joel Quenneville

MacTavish mentions Chicago specifically, which is interesting because the Blackhawks really had the blender running game-to-game in 2013-14.

  • The first line was a constant, featuring Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa together, with Patrick Sharp the regular third on that line.
  • The middle six was in constant flux. Patrick Kane played 150-plus minutes with eight different forwards, shuffling through the top nine depending on the night and the game situation, and his most regular linemate (Brandon Saad) spent less than one-third of the season with him.
  • The fourth line of Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith featured two good faceoff men (Kruger and Smith) and was used as a defensive zone specialty line, occasionally even when tough opponents were on the ice.

It’s easy to understand why MacTavish picked Chicago. Aside from the Blackhawks being a great team that plays a style suited to the Oilers’ players, there are definite similarities in roster construction. The Oilers have a steady top line (Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle), and a pair of players (Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon) perhaps suited to playing the role of Kruger & Smith.


What we don’t know is whether MacTavish envisions using Luke Gazdic in the Bollig role (prior to this season, Bollig had zero points in 43 career NHL games and was a perfectly wretched AHL player too). The trouble is that in that case all three players on the line would be left-handed shots, with none of them especially suited to right wing. A better solution might be to employ Mark Arcobello on the right wing of the line, which would add the offensive creativity that Smith brings to Chicago’s fourth line as well as a right-handed faceoff man and a designated right winger (in Kruger and Smith, the Blackhawks have the combination of RH/LH faceoff men), but Edmonton might not feel comfortable with Hendricks being the line’s designated physical player.

We can also include Steve Pinizzotto, Tyler Pitlick, Anton Lander and Jesse Joensuu in this conversation.

The Mushy Middle


In Chicago’s case, the gap between second and third line was pretty difficult to determine at times, except that the Kane/Saad duo were generally on the ice against better players than were Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell. Other than that, both lines were primarily used in offensive situations and expected to score.

On a team with a power-vs.-power line, a defensive zone line, and two auxiliary scoring units, there is absolutely no question as to where Nail Yakupov should slot into the mix. He’s not ready for employment in a power-vs.-power role (and like Kane, that may never be his calling) and he’s certainly not getting wasted on the defensive zone line. That leaves the two other scoring lines, and sticking Yakupov in the one that gets slightly easier minutes is a no-brainer if ever there was one.

Assuming Sam Gagner sticks around – and it sort of sounds like he will – he, David Perron and Yakupov would fill three of those slots, likely with Gagner and Perron holding down the second unit and Yakupov on the third. That leaves three slots open for one or two free agent additions, the player Edmonton lands at the draft, as well as Arcobello and Lander, with the latter two likely the Oilers’ fallback options if all doesn’t go well in free agency or if Aaron Ekblad somehow falls to third overall.


  • Craig1981

    “If we can draft a guy at centre who can play, then we’d have that guy, Perron and Sam or some form of that.”

    That sounds to me like they are thinking of Gagner at wing.

    ….I (and a few others) have wonder what pick overall Yak would bring. EVERY suggestion gets trashed, but there must be one that would be right…….

  • Quicksilver ballet

    With Dallas still here, this is a given I’m sure. No surprise really for a coach who points fingers at his players first. Eakins may be jealous Yak City has 28 career goals, to his zero.

    On the other hand, another year of Eakins means Connor McDavid is practically all ours. Enjoy what we’re all being force fed and stay the course, think positive folks.

    • Craig1981

      No way we are getting McDavid or Eichel (I believe both players will be super stars)sorry this team will be better than you think. We just

      Saw RJ Umberger was traded to Philly, how nice would it have been to see him on the Oilers.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Saw RJ Umberger was traded to Philly, how nice would it have been to see him on the Oilers.


        Sort of supports my argument there doesn’t it John? B and C level guys like Nikitin and Umberger won’t touch Edmonton with a 10′ pole.

        If Katz hadn’t said no to MacT cutting Eakins a cheque last year/firing him, then what you say would be possible. Maintaining the status quo, and expecting different results is highly unlikely under Eakins style, or lack thereof.

        The Oil are a serious contender for McDavid under the latest and greatest thing to ever come out of the AHL in Eakins.

    • Craig1981

      You are right, it is totally the Zamboni drivers, concession workers, and Joey Moss he should be pointing his fingers at first.

      Shame on him for holding players accountable when they have a tantrum on the bench (Hall) or refuse to play the teams style (Yak)

      *eyes rolled*

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Well I apologize then. I wasn’t aware the coaches job wasn’t to work with the group of players his boss/GM assembled/made available to him. Put as many of them in a position to succeed as possible. If MacTavish had any balls, he’d fire Eakins for publically questioning/embarrassing some of the players he provided Dallas with. Only a loser resorts to standing before the media and points fingers at players who he deems are responsible for the loss. That stuff should stay inside the dressing room.

        These public displays you mentioned, could also just be frustration, caused by egotistical rookie coach coming in and incorporating an American Hockey League system, no?.

        “rolls eyes”

  • hallsyoilerforever5

    Yak should get sheltered minutes, by at the same time they should utilize him properly on the PP with that bomb of a one timer he has. I’ll like to see somebody like Grabovski and Kulemin signed here to help him out on a line. The hate Yak got this year from the media was excruciating to hear and listen to. I guess they forgot how bad last year’s calder winner in Huberdeau did. Even Galchenyuk season was pretty mediocre. I’m sure Yakupov will bounce back and shut the critics up. Especially the Xenophobic ones. ( Don Cherry)