Nail Yakupov was the focus of a lot of attention when he was looking completely lost and struggling mightily, so it only seems fair that he get some now that he’s playing the best hockey of his still brief career with the Edmonton Oilers.
Yakupov’s resurgence isn’t rocket science, as the old eye-ball test in recent weeks has told most of us. He’s playing with a better centre in Derek Roy and he’s more confident playing under coach Todd Nelson than he was under Dallas Eakins during some truly dark days. He talked to Robert Tychkowski of the Edmonton Sun here. The money quotes for me are below.
On Roy: “I feel amazing now. I was waiting for a centre for three years. It’s the first time I’ve had a really good centre and I’m really happy for it. It took us a couple of games to get used to each other and now we’re pretty comfortable. It’s easy to play with him. He can move the puck and he’s really smart. All I have to do is try to get open for a shot.”
On Nelson: “He’s helped me a lot. I think he’s the guy who helped me the most,” Yakupov said of Nelson. When you don’t have support, and when you’re not feeling any trust from the coach … it’s pretty tough to play the game on the bench,” he said.
“I’m not a bad player, but it’s hard to get your points when you play lower than 10 minutes like I did for one and a half years. Now I have support. It’s a different situation, different coach, different guys.
“Nelly trusts the guys, the lines stay the same. We skate with each other, practise with each other and it’s much easier to do the little things in the game because everyone knows where you have go. Things are a lot better than we had in the past.”
Trust. Confidence. Support. It’s impossible to put a number to that, especially since there’s a chicken-and-egg factor at work. What comes first, confidence or results? Are you confident because you’re getting results or are you getting results because you’re confident? Likely both.
Even with eight points (4-4-8) over his last 10 games and obvious chemistry he’s shown with Roy, Yakupov’s season totals of 9-12-21 aren’t anything to write home about. There’s still work to do away from the puck. He needs to continue to slow the game down at times, change pace more often.
That said, to my eyes Yakupov has played better on a consistent basis for longer stretches than at any other time in his career, including that ridiculous hot streak he had at the end of his rookie season. He’s in the right place at the right time more often. He is reading off Roy and vice-versa. He seems to be responding to being put into situations to succeed by Nelson.
Considering where he came from, Yakupov is in a reasonably good spot as he comes out of his entry level deal with the Oilers. Just months ago, there was much cause for reasonable doubt that would be the case. If Yakupov can put together another 18 games of what we’ve seen between now and the end of the season, the Oilers might have themselves a player.
Good for the kid. Good for the Oilers.
CATCHING UP WITH TKACHEV
Undrafted Vladimir Tkachev, who caused a big stir during the pre-season and was signed by the Oilers to an entry level deal only to find out they’d have to toss him back into the 2015 draft pool, hasn’t exactly been tearing it up in the QMJHL this season.
Tkachev, 19, a diminutive (five-foot-eight) forward, has tallied 14-30-44 in 39 games with Moncton and the Quebec Remparts, who acquired him from the Wildcats after 13 games. Not bad numbers, but people were expecting more after he scored 10-20-30 as an 18-year-old with Moncton a year ago.
Might the Oilers re-visit Tkachev and use a mid-round pick to get him?
- With 18 games remaining and a record of 18-36-10 for 46 points after 64 games, the Oilers could establish franchise lows in wins, points and points-percentage for a full season of play.
- The franchise low for wins is 25, a number recorded twice – in 2010-11, 25-45-12 under Tom Renney, and 1993-94, 25-45-14 (ties) under Ted Green and Glen Sather. The 1993-93 season was 84 games.
- The franchise low for points is 60, set in the 1992-93 season when the Oilers had a record of 26-50-8 under Green. The low for points-percentage came in that season at .357. The Oilers face Chicago Friday with a percentage of .359.
- The low for home wins in a full season is 13, set in 2010-11 under Renney. The Oilers have 10 wins at Rexall Place (10-20-2) with nine home dates remaining.
If you’re a road hockey demon or would just like to get out and welcome spring by stretching your legs for a good cause, the 2015 Edmonton Flatstick Hockey Tournament might be for you.
The tournament, in support of the Fort Edmonton Foundation, will be played March 13-14 at Sir Winston Churchill Square. Teams will play four-on-four. You can find all the information you need about entering a team or making a donation here.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.