I’m not sure when Kevin Quinn of Sportsnet decided he’d start calling Nail Yakupov of the Edmonton Oilers Nye-eeeel Yakupov when he scores a goal, but we heard him bellow it twice in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets Monday.
All I know is it beats the hell out of Fail Yakupov, the headline of an item I wrote back on January 9. In that bit I suggested interim coach Todd Nelson give the then-struggling Yakupov every possible chance to succeed and then opined that if Yakupov didn’t grab it and make something significant of it, it might be time to consider him a bust.
While it remains too early to make a call either way on his long-term future, Yakupov has looked like a new player under Nelson. Yakupov’s two goals against the Jets has him on a five-game point streak, a stretch in which he has 3-3-6. In the 22 games he’s played under Nelson, Yakupov has 4-7-11 after managing just 4-4-8 in his first 36 games of the season.
Yakupov is getting more ice time. He’s getting more power play time. He’s got something going with Derek Roy. The goals he scored against the Jets were beauties. We’re seeing some of the confidence and strut he showed as a rookie – remember how some people had their tighties in a knot because the kid celebrated goals with too much gusto?
I can’t say I saw this coming.
While Yakupov remains something of an adventure five-on-five and has a long way to go to become reliable on the defensive side of the puck, he is looking more like the offensive player he came billed as. His first goal came because he took the puck to the net. His second was pure hands. A snipe.
From where I sit, Yakupov has responded to Nelson opening the door of opportunity with his best performances of this season, since his rookie season, actually. We’re seeing a little more control in his game. We’re seeing a change of pace here and there instead of every shift being played at a frantic pace. He’s been at the right place at the right time more often.
I get the need to have players be responsible defensively. I get the need to insist players perform within the system the coach employs. It’s also important to let the player be what he is. Every time Nelson throws Yakupov out on the power play or gives him the tap for a shootout, as he did again last night, he’s saying, “Go do what you do best. You can do this.”
Nail or Nye-eeeel, my guess is fans really don’t care what Quinn calls Yakupov as long as we see more of what we’ve witnessed of late in the games that remain this season. “Fail” is a very distant third right now. I’m fine with that, as I’m sure you are.
WITH OR WITHOUT YOU
The likelihood that Oiler GM Craig MacTavish will trade impending UFA Jeff Petry in coming weeks and what Edmonton’s blue line might look like without him has been touched on by other writers here, but I’d like to offer my take on it. In one word: disaster.
While I’ve insisted all along Petry would be foolish not to test the UFA market – he could do so and use potential offers as leverage and still re-sign with the Oilers – I’m stunned that MacTavish hasn’t seen fit to at least give Petry something to think about by making an offer.
Petry, 27, isn’t a first pairing defenseman on a team that’s any good, but the way he’s played this season puts him in the second pairing on a lot of NHL teams. How many defensemen do the Oilers have like that? As good as Oscar Klefbom might become, Petry is the best the Oilers have right now. That’s not worth an offer?
When I think about Edmonton’s blue line without Petry, I think about Klefbom being leaned on too heavily next season as Petry was while he was developing. I think about having to rush Darnell Nurse into a roster spot before he’s ready. I think about the Oilers having to rely on gimpy Nikita Nikitin and fast-fading Andrew Ference. I think about Justin Schultz, warts and all, getting a long-term offer. I think about over-paying for a broken-down or never-that-good UFA to fill the void left by Petry.
It is to shudder.
WHILE I’M AT IT
- The Oilers are 9-10-3 under Nelson. I don’t see another win in the next five games to close out the month – against Boston, Minnesota twice, Anaheim and St. Louis.
- Anton Lander has 4-7-11 in 21 games this season. He had 2-6-8 in his first 94 games with the Oilers in three previous stints.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.