FAIL YAKUPOV

It’s about time the Edmonton Oilers took a serious look at how they draft and develop players even if it might be a case of better late than never when it comes to Nail Yakupov.

While the Oilers are taking steps to clean up the mess they’ve made in both areas – they’ve promoted Bob Green but have yet to announce it or provide specifics about his duties – Yakupov, taken first overall by Edmonton in the 2012 Entry Draft, is teetering on the brink of becoming a bust just past the 150-game mark of his NHL career.

If it plays out that way, and I suspect it will given how Yakupov has struggled and regressed since a decent rookie season in 2012-13, it’ll not only be a failure by the player but a failure by Edmonton’s scouting staff and player development, or lack of same.

Drafted from Sarnia as a one-trick pony, that trick being the ability to put points on the board, Yakupov, 21, is failing miserably. After scoring 17 goals in 48 games as a rookie, he fell off in 2013-14, tallying 11-13-24 in 63 games. Through 41 games this season, Yakupov has scored 4-5-9. He has one goal and one assist in his last 25 games.

Instead of a blue-chipper coming out of his entry level contract commanding the kind of money Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle did, Yakupov is already a reclamation project with the B-word hanging in the air heading into the second half of his third season.

Lots of blame to go around.

HERE AND NOW

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While I’ve written many times about not liking Yakupov’s game, I never saw this kind of stretch coming. Two points in his last 25 games? Not many fans, notably the Yak City Mob that formed after he lit things up in the final three games of his rookie season, did. “Yak’s gonna be a 35-goal guy . . . blah, blah, blah.” You can look it up. It’s pretty quiet in that camp now.

Flaws and all, Yakupov’s ace-in-the-hole, the reason an organization might look the other way regarding his shortcomings, was supposed to be his ability to produce points. He wasn’t drafted to be Boyd Gordon or Matt Hendricks, who both have more goals than him right now. He was drafted to be dynamic, to be a game-breaker. We saw flashes as a rookie. That’s gone.

“His first year in the league, he’d come late on plays and he could really shoot,” an NHL pro scout from another organization told Jim Matheson of the Journal this week. “I’m not seeing any shots, and there’s just nothing happening. To me, he looks like he has no confidence at all with the puck.”

“Some of the plays he’s making, I wonder about his hockey sense,” said another pro scout, raising a more concerning issue than a lack of confidence or shots – a lack of hockey IQ, which is not a new question when it comes to Yakupov. Members of the Oiler scouting staff must have had questions about that before the draft. If they didn’t, they missed an obvious red flag. Yet Edmonton drafted him (some say at the urging of owner Daryl Katz).

THE BLAME GAME

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There’s been plenty of debate about Yakupov since the minute he was drafted and I’m not going to rehash all of it again. Suffice to say, Yak backers insist he hasn’t had a fair shake – not enough ice time, the wrong linemates, not enough power-play time. I buy some of it. Not all.

Yakupov is already on his third coach, starting with Ralph Krueger then moving to Dallas Eakins and now interim man Todd Nelson. That lack of continuity hasn’t helped. He took a huge step back under Eakins in his first season behind the bench and has not recovered.

As far as Yakupov’s linemates, not getting the chance to play with “a real NHL centre,” it just isn’t so. You might want to look up how much ice time Yakupov got with Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner in his first two seasons. Jason Gregor brought those numbers up on his show yesterday. Did Yakupov do enough with the looks his got in the top-six? On it goes . . . 

Should Yakupov have seen some time in the minors along the way? I think so, but that’s not an option now because he has to clear waivers. Somebody would take a chance on him. It could be argued Yakupov should have been returned for another year in the OHL after his draft, but agent Igor Larionov would have screamed like hell about that and the Oilers were all-too-happy to insert another first overall pick into the line-up, ready or not.

It matters not now. Here we are.

NOW WHAT?

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I said it last week and I’ll say it again – I’d like to see Yakupov get every opportunity to turn things around in the second half of this season. There is no upside, no matter where you think the blame lays, to see the kid fail and to send him away for nothing or next to it.

Give Yakupov the best possible linemates – he’ll line up against Chicago tonight with Benoit Pouliot and Derek Roy – and play the wheels off him on the power play. Put Yakupov in the best position to succeed, to turn things around. Maybe he does. Maybe he doesn’t. Leave no stone unturned.

If Yakupov gets that opportunity and does nothing with it, then there’s obviously another conversation to be had moving forward. Essentially, with 152 games in the books, it comes down to that for Yakupov – reversal of fortune or bust.

NOTABLE BUSTS

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Looking at the NHL Entry Draft from 1979 to 2012, when Yakupov was selected, there have only been a handful of players who were taken first overall you could deem flat-out busts in that 34-year period.

  • Doug Wickenheiser, 1980. Montreal fans wanted Denis Savard, but the Habs took Wickenheiser. Dealt to St. Louis after four seasons, the former Regina Pats star played 556 NHL games, scoring 111-165-276. Montreal took him ahead of Savard, Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy.
  • Gord Kluzak, 1982. Big defenseman taken by Boston from the Billings Bighorns was limited to just 299 games, scoring 25-98-123, by knee injuries and was retired by the age of 27. Bruins took Kluzak ahead of Brian Bellows, Scott Stevens and Phil Housley.
  • Brian Lawton, 1983. Taken by Minnesota, Lawton played 483 NHL games, scoring 112-154-266. Drafted ahead of Pat LaFontaine, Steve Yzerman and Cam Neely.
  • Alexandre Daigle, 1993. Taken by Ottawa, Daigle had three seasons of 51 points, including his rookie campaign, and played 616 NHL games, scoring 129-198-327. Was an Oiler on paper for one day after being acquired from Philadelphia and traded to Tampa Bay for Alex Selivanov on Jan. 29, 1999. Drafted ahead of Chris Pronger, Paul Kariya and Jason Arnott.
  • Patrik Stefan, 1999. Taken by the Atlanta Thrashers, Stefan never had more than 40 points in a season, finishing with 64-124-188 in 455 NHL games. Taken ahead of Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

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

  • geeker99

    This re-build has shown holes in many blue chip kids. Whithout a Nhl defence the kids have had to learn to backcheck and play in the D-zone. probably for the first time in their career. We expected yak to come in and light it up. Give him the second half of the season with roy, a vet that i think could help the kids. This guy was on waivers and has looked great.

    Would hate to give up on Yak, I have a feeling he is going to get it one day.

  • Calling Yakupov a bust is crazy.who from that draft class is really tearing it up?Galchenyuk is a good hockey player,but he’s hardly setting the world on fire.the only other two impact players from that year so far,is Lindholm for the Ducks and Matta from the pens. Pouliot is also showing signs for the pens,but three of four play defense,and none have scored thirty goes in the NHL so far.Edmonton as an organization and a fan base,are so quick to turn on their prospects.and as I write this he scores a pretty nice goal.chill on this guy,let him play,let him learn and show him some love.he’ll figure it out.he’s still a kid.

  • @brownlee; lets re-focus the discussion. If Yak was draft-eligible this year, based on evaluations only of his time with Sarnia, where would he be ranked? How much lower would he be ranked? Top-5? Top-10? I think people are too hung up on the fact that he was a consensus number one pick, without appreciating he was in the weakest draft in years.

    Had he been drafted 10th, there would have been no big issue to send him back to juniors and play out his eligibility there. It would have been considered prudent to then give him a year in the AHL, where he would have had time to learn to expand his skillset. And even if the Oilers figured he was a bust internally, they could have traded him while still selling that he was a developing asset.

    Managing his development has destroyed any hope on a decent return of his potential.

    • Lots of could have and should have here. No going back. What matters now with Yakupov is what happens next. Like I said in the item, give him a chance in the second half of the season and see what happens. Pretty good start on that tonight.

  • camdog

    The truth about Yakopov is that in any other draft year he goes number 3-5. The truth about Yakopov is any other team and any other year, Yakopov would have spent a couple of seasons in a developmental league. Given different circumstances this could have been Yakopov’s rookie season. The truth about the Oilers the last 2 years is they have been disorganised/chaotic and their coaching has been horrid. Yakopov has the second most points of any player drafted in his draft year, that’s not saying he’s good, that’s just stating that few from his draft class have done more, because they are still where they belong, in developmental leagues.

    People can label him a bust or a failure, but the reality is it’s still too early to judge, just like it was 2 months ago, 3 months ago and 4 months ago. With some stability in the coaching ranks, a roster that provides some protection for younger players (both in terms of NHL quality centreman and size) a lot of confidence can change a player dramatically.

  • Roy has never had eakins as a coach, Pouliot only part of the season. Both players line up with Yak and they become a successful line. Mmm small sample but maybe eakins has something to do with it. Playing with real NHL players with less eakins influence maybe the answer.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    Love that as the back and forth was going on, he was quietly having the best game of the year.

    It’s easy to kick a player while he’s down but it becomes hard to justify that he “is a one trick pony” when he
    1. shows that kind of skill and brilliance in quick transition on the goal
    2. Has improved his defensive game
    3. Was in a critical year after a bad end in 2014, then gets placed with one underperforming center vs a 19 y/o whose defensive responsibilities were needing to be distributed among his linemates. All while getting 12 mins a night. Under the tutelage of an inferior coach.

    Yes he played with gagner too, but not many people think highly of him either around these parts, and this year should have been a big one for him to restore his confidence but his deployment wad botched. If we want another example look no further than lander. I don’t think he’s put together a point scoring streak in his nhl career, let alone a 3 game streak.

    Finally, If you are going to use the argument that he has regressed then you can’t in the same breath say “he was good but so were most oilers.” Applying your logic, haven’t most if not all oilers regressed this year? You can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to trash his play, then at least pay him his dues for tonight without adding a caveat.

    • “Finally, If you are going to use the argument that he has regressed then you can’t in the same breath say “he was good but so were most oilers.” Applying your logic, haven’t most if not all oilers regressed this year? You can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to trash his play, then at least pay him his dues for tonight without adding a caveat.”

      Yes, many of the Oilers have regressed this season — although not as badly as Yakupov — and many of those same Oilers played well tonight. There’s no contradiction here.

      • Marshall Law

        Singling out a player for not producing when the whole team has not been producing is an opinion, and I understand where you are coming from with the factoring in of his draft pedigree.

        However, if you are going to evaluate his production in isolation from his teammates, which you had done, then by deduction, you should evaluate his performance tonight on a similar basis, not needing to diminish it by relating it to the peformace of his teammates.

        Otherwise, you are attempting to gain advantage from 2 opposing views in the different contexts. You don’t have to agree, but it is the proverbial “having it both ways,” if one must preface Yakupov’s performance was excellent tonight by comparison to his teammates improved play, while ignoring the obvious regression of teammates’ under Eakins when evaluating his play.

  • Jordan88

    The real bust on this team is Schultz. Look at his TOI vs the points he gets. Compared to the top d-men in the league at the age he is the real deal of a bust. Look how good our PP is with him and his muffin shot.

  • 719

    Well written article. Mr. Brownlee, has a point with what he is saying, he points out the faults the organization made in their mishandling of Yakupov. He hopes it will be a reminder of what NOT to do in the future. I think that is lost by all the Yak defenders.

  • All the stupid and negative comments here about Yakupov, you fans are driving players away Edmonton.

    Did you all see the game Yakupov played tonite? He was flying out there, collecting 2 points and +3 for the nite.

    As I said before all they need is a good coach to whip them into a good team. Nelson is doing that, when the team wins people complains about losing the 1st pick in June. When the team loses the fans want to burn someone at the stake.

    The team is playing way better than with Eakins coaching.

    Nelson is a good coach.

    Play competitive, score some goals, stay close in the games. Get into OT then it’s ok to lose then, just get 1 point and stay low in standing for June picks.

    Trading away those 1st picks like Yakupov, Hall or Eberle is STUPID. They will come around, the team is skating, fore checking, crashing the net.

    Wins will come, stop blaming the players, Yakupov will score 50 goals one day and hopefully with the Oilers.

    If you people don’t like the players then watch something else. Stop trashing them here. I M SICK and TIRED of you people.

  • Admiral Ackbar

    Pretty decent game by Yak last night, eh Brownlee?

    Before the ‘small sample size’ hissy fit that is typically thrown, understand that nearly every statistic I’ve seen used in conventional hockey metrics is from a rather small same size. Please google medline/pubmed to understand how statistics are viewed when patient safety is a concern.

    Compared to the strength of clinical data, your (and anyone else’s) assertions about Nail Yakupov and pretty much any other marginal NHL player is highly subjective at best. I commend you for attempting an evidence based approach to this situation but there simply isn’t enough data to suggest much of anything about Nail Yakupov. There are too many variables to standardize.

    The day that you can demonstrate this with numbers and standardize: team, organization, linemates, quality of competition and development and then have enough data to compare him to a control, then the assertions will have validity.

    You walk the line of reserving opinion while your tone is a definite judgement. This entire article has had the frame of Yakupov entering bust territory. This is likely erroneous and based on your own pre-formed opinion.

    Next time, please review data and then form a theory before mascarading a scientific approach.

  • Rdubb

    I said it before the 2012 draft, i said it on draft day and i’ve been saying ever since, the Oilers fudged up by drafting Yakupov and not his Sarnia teammate (and best bud from my understanding) Galchenyuk. We all know that Galchenyuk missed almost the entire 2012 season due to an injury, but, and that is a BIG BUT, he played exceptional the yr before, he played great in the few regular season games he got into to and the 2012 playoffs, and more importantly, Edmonton could have left him in Sarnia for another season to “season” him as-it-were, & by far, most importantly, he filled a hole Edmonton had and could have used, a C!!! A C with some size to him, 6’1″ and just a hair under 200lbs, and he’ll get heavier and stronger as he gets older…
    It was my opinion that Galchenyuk could skate better, was stronger on his skates, could pass better & his hockey IQ was far superior to that of Nail’s. So my question then, and now is, WHY! Why did Edmonton not draft Galchenyuk when they had the chance?
    Most people knew that Nail had a shot and all that, but his hockey IQ was lacking and his game was not, and is not suited for the NHL. Even in junior we heard that the coaching staff would just let Nail go and do what he did, was it because he wouldn’t listen to his coaches then either? Was it because he felt his real coach was his father (or maybe Galchenyuk’s, i cannot be 100% sure)? Did he (the two of them) do a ton of practising on their own when not being schooled?
    Does Katz own the Oilers? YES! But by owning the Oilers does that give him the right to bud in and tell the scouting staff and management who to trade for or draft? I guess, the answer is yes, but it should be a huge NO!!!
    He has people, hockey people, people who know the game, know the players, know how to evaluate talent, so what gives him the right? Just because he saw him a few times live? Maybe he watched him via the net a few times, saw some highlight real goals? That doesn’t give him the right, he is a businessman, someone who built an empire. If he made stupid decisions in his personal business by stepping on people’s toes and over stepping his boundaries, well, he wouldn’t have the money to own the Oilers. And if he did REQUEST that Edmonton draft Nail over the other top picks, well, maybe he has learned a lesson to keep his nose out of it, allow the proper people to make the picks.
    Is the Oilers scouting staff a good one, NO!!! But still, it is their job to evaluate talent, not Katz’s. And now they are taking the heat for picking him, for picking the wrong person & is that fair to them? NO!
    Question is, how many other times has he over stepped his boundary and forced the staff to pick someone they didn’t think was the proper pick @ that time?
    So, how many “poor” picks are the fault of the scouting staff and how many fall on Katz’s shoulders? Perhaps we’ll never know, but we know of one, and isn’t that enough?
    Owning the team gives him the right to make recommendations but not to force the management to pick…