The Edmonton Oilers have a serious problem with Nail Yakupov, who at this moment in time looks like the worst first overall pick since Patrik Stefan/Rick DiPietro were selected in back-to-back years. Ever wonder what drafting Alexandre Daigle looks like? Three seasons in it looks a lot like Yakupov.
A Tire Fire Season
I was looking at Benoit Pouliot’s numbers this morning and thinking that he didn’t seem as effective as a) he has been in the recent past and b) he looks to my eyes. So I did what I normally do and looked at the context – and found this:
- Pouliot with Yakupov: 44.8% Corsi, 42.9% goals
- Pouliot without Yakupov: 53.7% Corsi, 58.8% goals
- Yakupov without Pouliot: 46.4% Corsi, 22.6% goals
This isn’t something that’s confined to Pouliot. Yakupov has played at least an hour of five-on-five hockey with 13 different players this year; 12 of them have better Corsi numbers (in many cases, much better numbers) when playing apart from Yakupov. Given that Dallas Eakins gave Yakupov the softest possible minutes – he worked hard to get him bottom-six matchups and gave him offensive zone start after offensive zone start – that’s damning.
Turning a Corner?
Is Yakupov turning a corner under new head coach Todd Nelson? Not really.
In the eight games since Nelson took sole control of the head coaching position, Yakupov has three points and is minus-three. The underlying numbers are even worse. He has the worst Corsi rating of any forward on the team at a wretched 35.3%, nearly 10 points back of Roy, more than 10 points back of Pouliot.
He had a lovely two-point, plus-three night against Chicago a week ago, a game where he showed flashes of the kind of offensive player he could be. But other than that he simply hasn’t been very good, even if he did have a couple of good chances against Tampa Bay on Thursday.
There is no easy path forward for Edmonton.
A trade would be the obvious choice, but Yakupov’s performance has been so poor that his value can’t be very high at all. Maybe that doesn’t matter; perhaps the team needs to accept that the first overall pick it spent on the player is a sunk cost and get what it can for him.
The alternative is to try and develop him.
When Yakupov was drafted, the idea that he might be lured to the KHL by money was one of the principle arguments against taking him; now we’re almost at the point where it might not be a bad thing if he spends a year or two in Russia because he can’t go to the AHL without clearing waivers and he’s largely been a millstone at the NHL level. The problem is that they play a different type of game in the KHL and that league isn’t exactly known for developing well-rounded hockey players.
Can the Oilers afford to develop Yakupov in the NHL? Can they afford not to?
On the latter point, I know I’ve been hammering the player here (because, honestly, he hasn’t been very good) but there have been points where he’s shown things. Believe it or not, in 2013-14 Yakupov actually outperformed the Oilers’ Corsi average; his scoring fell off after a freak shooting percentage year under Ralph Krueger and the goalies had a 0.879 save percentage when he was on the ice so we didn’t spend a lot of time talking about it.
There’s also this, from earlier this year:
- Yakupov with Arcobello: 49.4% Corsi, 50.0% goals
- Yakupov with Perron: 54.1% Corsi, 60.0% goals
For a while there, Eakins had a decent thing going with Yakupov. He was sheltering him (boy, was he ever sheltering him) but with certain linemates he was doing okay. Early in the year, he was even scoring somewhat; 16 games into the season Yakupov had three goals and four assists, with almost all of that coming at evens.
I do think there’s probably a player there somewhere; Yakupov has a lot of good points in his game and in the right situation he might emerge. Unfortunately, Edmonton has so many different problems that it’s going to be hard for the team to put Yakupov in an ideal situation (with two capable veterans, soft-ish minutes and ideally a significant role on the power play) consistently.