WHAT ABOUT NAIL?

Nail Yakupov

While Nail Yakupov wrapped up his rookie season as a member of the Edmonton Oilers with a bang, scoring six goals in the team’s final three games of 2012-13, he went out with a whimper as a sophomore, sidelined by an injury to end a difficult 2013-14 campaign.

Yakupov’s torrid final few games as a rookie under coach Ralph Krueger saw him finish the season with 17-14-31 in 48 games, tying the former Sarnia Sting sniper for the NHL scoring lead in points among freshmen.

In contrast, Yakupov finished last season under rookie coach Dallas Eakins on the shelf with a foot injury, leaving him with just 11-13-24 in 63 games, a marked step back for the right winger from Nizhnekamsk. 

Yakupov critics talked about how his rookie campaign was something of an illusion, his stats inflated by an unsustainable shooting percentage and that hot finish. Yakupov’s backers, meanwhile, pointed to how, when and with whom he was used by Eakins as the reason for his drop off in production.

So, what to expect in 2014-15?

TRYING TIMES

Stats

Statistically speaking, Yakupov’s ice time under Eakins was 14:19 per game, slightly off the 14:34 he averaged under Krueger. His shooting percentage dropped from 21 per cent to nine per cent under Eakins even though he shot at a slightly higher rate – he went from 17 goals on 81 shots to 11 on 122. His plus-minus went from minus-4 to minus-33.

Noteworthy in that, framed by what was perceived as a sometimes strained relationship with Eakins, was that Yakupov’s power play time dropped from 2:28 per game to 2:10. He was made a healthy scratch by Eakins. He often found himself playing alongside bottom-six linemates.

That sparked plenty of debate. Did Eakins give Yakupov every chance to succeed in terms of the situations he was used in and the linemates he was deployed with? Well, no. Did Yakupov earn those opportunities? Well, no. Did Yakupov and Eakins both contribute to what we saw? Yes.

Eakins didn’t always like what he saw from Yakupov, and there was plenty not to like. Too many defensive lapses. Too many times when he didn’t use his linemates. Eakins used the only currency at his disposal, ice time, to get that message across. It was obvious that sometimes didn’t sit well with Yakupov, notably back-to-back healthy scratches.

LESSONS LEARNED?

WhatDidYouLearn

While I don’t think Yakupov, any player for that matter, should simply be handed prime ice time without earning it, my impression from afar was that Eakins was occasionally heavy-handed in the lessons he attempted to teach. It was equally perplexing to see Yakupov play, it seemed, without a clue.

“With Nail, it was like with a lot of our guys. We had to come in this year and hit the reset button,” Eakins said in April. “Hitting that reset button was very hard on Nail. He’d been allowed to just go out and play by his coaches in junior and everyone before.

“We could continue to do that. Or we could start to build the foundation of how we’re going to play as a team and what that means to each individual, so that we can have success in the playoffs and turn into one of these top-level teams.

“You can’t just play the individual game. And it wasn’t just Nail. We had a whole bunch of that going on here and we had to reset it and there’s been pain and suffering doing it. But I think our team is much better for it now.”

THE WAY I SEE IT

TheWayISeeIt

When I watch Yakupov, even allowing for the expected bumps along the way you get with a young player, I see a talented kid who has a long way to go to grasp systems and the importance of team concept. I’m not convinced, yet, he accepts he has to change his approach at the NHL level. He must.

That said, patience – Oiler fans have come to hate that word – by Eakins is also an absolute must in this situation. Eakins has to make his expectations of Yakupov clear and make sure nothing is lost in the translation. It’ll take collaboration. It’ll mean give and take on both sides.

I hope Eakins and Yakupov have that conversation. I hope they get on the same page. Maybe they already have. Until that happens, we won’t see the best of Yakupov. 

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

  • An excellent column, as usual, from Robin, but I would just like to add one element, Igor Larionov. ‘The Professor’ is Yak’s agent, which means he has to stand up for him publicly, but should also tell him the harsh truth privately, which I have no doubt he has and is. Larionov was not just one of the best hockey players of all time, he is also one of the smartest, hence the nickname. Be assured that in any conversation with Oiler officials, Igor is always the smartest guy in the room. He may not have much respect for Eakins, but he knows Yak has to play a complete game to succeed in the NHL. I am hoping he has had a heart-to-heart with him in the off-season. I think he is the key to turning Yak’s game around, as well as an insistence by the Oilers that Yak and all his teammates play a complete game.

    • I hope Larionov has had that conversation with Yak.

      I also hope that someone from the Oiler management has had a conversation with Eakins. Maybe they can explain that young players with amazing skills are a lot rarer and harder to acquire than good AHL coaches.

  • Serious Gord

    It’s fair to say that the entire team got exploited on a high percentage of their mistakes. No confidence from goaltending out. Could not get any momentum. Rarely played with a lead. The season collapsed and they didn’t have the horses to halt the mess and turn things around. Yak was a victim of the whole crummy year. Yaktimus Prime shall prevail!

  • BlazingSaitls

    “He’s already given me a couple of things that I am not going to share with you, but that he’s said, ‘Listen, here are some things that you did. You don’t need to do that and here’s how I think that you should have handled it.’ And it comes across in a very good way. He’s not trying to be a puppeteer, but he’s a guy that I regard as a dear friend and somebody I’m going to listen to and to consider all of the time.” – Eakins quote about Ramsey.

    Im sure Eakins handling of Yak and the Oilers PP was at top of this list with the Hall/bottlegate being at the bottom. Eakins and his ego will be under control this year I expect. Perron came from the Blues and was allowed to play; to spread his wings as it were.

    Let Yak Fly man…Let Yak Fly!

    25-33 goals

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    Yak just needs a Center who can win battles on the board and cycle.

    Gagner simply did not compliment his style.

    Look what Spezza did for Hemsky….

    Playing with an established elite Center does wonders for skilled wingers.

  • hallsyoilerforever5

    This kid is a pure shooter and that strenght in junior paid dividends and earned him a first overall draft pick.

    I agree with your assessment in him being an individual player and not utilizing his team mates effectively……..but please he was not and is not the only player on the Oilers playing this type of game.

    Ales Hemsky rarely played a team game and was never benched. He was the easiest guy to bench so Eakins did just that. I think the better question is what exactly was the development plan for this kid? He should have never made the team in the first place, given his style of game. He should have been sent back to junior in his first year, and made to prove himself in the AHL before getting a spot handed to him in his first year.

    Managment owns this one!

  • Yak is a natural born freelancer. You see alot of gifted athletes like that – pure bred race horses. When his wings get clipped like last year he loses his confidence because it’s the only way he knows how to play and we see what we saw.

    This type of player isn’t a problem if you can fit a group of line mates around him to minimize the downsides and exploit the upsides. I believe that was Krueger’s coaching philosophy. But if you have too many one-dimensional players on a team (type of skill, inexperience) like the Oilers did, the “Yak line” severely constrains the ability to execute mix and match strategies to counter different opposing teams.

    The one luxury Krueger had is that he was facing primarily big, heavy teams in the Western Conference, so he could set his strategy with far less need for changing things up. He was always facing the same set of tactics and built his strategy accordingly with Yak as a roving trigger man – perfectly complimenting his natural talents.

    Simply put, the Oilers didn’t have enough diversity in their lineup last year to give Yak a chance to succeed with his skillset so they shoe-horned him into a role he clearly wasn’t comfortable with – one that would work to fit the various styles the team would face in a full schedule.

    I think Yak is going to explode this year. He knows what game the team will play and what Eakins will expect from him. And the team will have more diversity of talent to surround him with.

    It’s gonna be YakTastic!

  • Serious Gord

    Yak could be seen as the true test of Eakins ability as coach. So far not so good. It seemed that nail was the whipping boy while others (gagner probably most egregiously) failed as bad or even worse than yak at playing a two way game.

    Yak more than any other player on the team looks like a thoroughbred – highly tuned to succeed but within a very narrow range of capability. Pure scorer with a rugged physical edge he plays with a high-strung, emotional manner that cuts both ways – if he is down emotionally his game collapses.

    Eakins seems very ill-equipped to handle the type of player yak is. Sadly I think yak will be gone before Eakins is – though Eakins won’t be far behind.

    • toprightcorner

      Even more sadly, I agree with you… Except Maybe for Yak leaving..Gulp!!

      Sadly Eakins might be the one bad decision that overrides a lot of good ones by MacT….I want to be wrong

      • toprightcorner

        I also agree with this. Eakins will be in tough and will be gone if the oilers are in the same place as last year after 20 games. Yak scares me though ..he has the talent and the shot but all coaches want players to be responsible defensively ..Why..just check the goals against for the season for the Stanley cup finalists and you will find the answer why defense AND goaltending keeps coaches employed.

        YAK must learn to be a team player and learn how to play both sides of the puck.. I’m cheering for him as he is a most entertaining kid. I also think that Gagner should have been scratched at least as many games last year as Yak…

  • Oilers Coffey

    Great article. I love Yak’s talent but this is a fair assessment of where Yak is. I think this will be a big year, in terms of the team deciding if he’s going to be part of the future here. As much as I like him, I do think he will eventually be dealt.

  • Oilers Coffey

    Eakins should be under a very bright spot light. If he can’t get the best out of this group of athletes, the coach always goes.

    A small pile of evidence is mounting that Eakins is in over his head.

    • a lg dubl dubl

      Agree, everyone digressed under the swarm or whatever crap Eakins was selling last season, unless Ramsay can instill some real coaching into the players Eakins will not see Christmas as the coach. He and Acton were damn poor coaches last year with no leadership just petty benchings and water bottles tirades.

  • toprightcorner

    Classic, in-progress case of a rushed player.

    And why on earth did they burn up a year of his entry level contract on the lock-out season?

    Anyways, I sure hope that getting his beloved #10 and a good off-season sees him improve this coming year. I love how he plays and I really want him to do well.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    With Eakins as coach Yak will not get better.

    Eakins is critical of the players in public and says things like we need better defensemen, better forwards, etc. He is suppose to make the players that he has better.

    He started last year by having the team play the swarm instead of having a system designed to enhance the players skills.

    He is all talk.

    MacT is supporting him so Yak will not be with the team by this time next year.

  • hallsyoilerforever5

    Nail will be a great player. He just needs TIME. Why aren’t guys like Huberdeau criticized, when that man won the calder only to have a horrible season just like Yak. No media said anything about him. Yak? Gets labeled as a typical Russian, enigmatic, lazy, and “he’ll go back to the KHL.” Yak loves Edmonton to the point where he brought his family here. Rarely do we see players like to play here, but Yak loves Edmonton along with oiler fans. I still remember him kissing the crest of the jersey, when he scored against the blackhawks. I got faith in Yak to have a bounceback season. Book it. Screw the haters. Yak city..

    • Serious Gord

      As I was reading this article I was also thinking Huberdeau..I don’t hear Florida trying to trade him.. I have not been very confident in Yak but do believe there was a very bad mix of players last year. YAK did not have players who could cover for his mistakes that young players always make. Add that to the goaltending and he looked real bad at times.

      Yak should bounce back this year as there will be a first line and then two second lines one of which Yak will play on with a responsible vet. Add that to a much stronger defense and if he uses his linemates ie. give and go and shoot he will be great. I am of two minds to put him in Eberle’s spot as that line IS a top line…however it would defiantly give him a boost and a quick “RESET”…

  • #ThereGoesTheOilers

    Perhaps his defensive deficiencies wouldn’t have had him so maligned if he had
    the supporting cast to help him cover up those mistakes.

    Solid blueliners make a world of difference for the occasional lapse in defensive awareness.

    He just needs more time. He’s still very young.