Nail Yakupov shouldn’t be playing with Mark Letestu

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There’s no question which of the Edmonton Oilers’ No. 1 overall draft picks has had the most difficult adjustment to the NHL.

Nail Yakupov enjoyed an impressive rookie season in 2012-13, scoring 17 times and managing 31 points in just 48 games, but since then has struggled mightily. He’s now in the midst of his third consecutive unsuccessful season, and Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli faces two unappealing choices: He can either hang on to Yakupov for another season, hoping that he can change the pattern, or he can trade the 22-year-old winger to another NHL team for what is bound to be an unimpressive return.

Either way, the current treatment Yakupov is getting from head coach Todd McLellan isn’t helping matters.

Todd McLellan7

It’s easy to be overly critical of the coach. McLellan (and any other coach) has to juggle multiple priorities: what’s best for individual players, what wins games, what furthers organizational goals, etc. Yakupov hasn’t necessarily made it easy for him, either. But none of that changes the fact that McLellan’s handling of Yakupov has neither put him in a position to succeed nor showcased him for a trade.

Yakupov has played with four different full-time Edmonton centres this year, and predominantly with two. The following are his even-strength numbers with each:

  • Mark Letestu: 162 minutes, 0.00 points/hour, 44.7 percent Corsi
  • Connor McDavid: 142 minutes, 2.96 points/hour, 52.3 percent Corsi
  • Anton Lander: 41 minutes, 1.45 points/hour, 60.5 percent Corsi
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: 35 minutes, 1.73 points/hour, 34.8 percent Corsi

These are all relatively small samples, though for the latter two centres we can look back on a longer history.

Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov have never worked well together—Dallas Eakins was routinely criticized for not giving Yakupov a fair shake during his time as coach, but he gave that duo a long look and it just didn’t work. In more than six hours together Yakupov had just five assists, no goals at all and the Oilers were caved in on the shot clock.

Lander and Yakupov, weirdly, haven’t been a terrible fit in a little over two hours together. It’s not a duo that has produced much offensively, but it has done a decent job of keeping the shots against numbers down. If Yakupov is to be consigned to a bottom-six role, Lander’s probably not a bad centre for him.

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As for the other two, the results this year have been night and day. With McDavid Yakupov enjoyed some real success early in the year. McLellan took care not to start this line in the defensive end of the rink, but it produced offensively. The Letestu/Yakupov duo, on the other hand, has been totally useless. Sticking Yakupov with an offensive sinkhole like Letestu—his five-on-five points per hour number this year is a little bit north of Nick Schultz and a little bit south of Taylor Chorney—makes it impossible for him to produce. Sticking Letestu with a defensive liability like Yakupov makes it impossible to trust the unit with much in the way of defensive responsibility.

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If McLellan just wants to shuffle Yakupov to the fourth line and forget about him, maybe the thing to do is to start dressing Lander in the place of the appalling Lauri Korpikoski. That would allow him to build a third line featuring Letestu, Matt Hendricks and Zack Kassian, a unit which could be given some tougher defensive assignments and would at least bring physical play. That would leave Lander and Iiro Pakarinen as a penalty kill duo on the fourth line and allow Yakupov to play his handful of minutes per night with a centre whom he hasn’t been a total disaster with.

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Alternately, Yakupov could go back to playing with McDavid. The benefits for Yakupov are obvious, as are the benefits to whichever line then gets to play with Jordan Eberle. It’s not at all clear that the Oilers would be worse off in this scenario—whatever loss of effectiveness Eberle suffers is likely to be compensated for by a return to effectiveness for Yakupov—but even if they are it won’t be by much and it’s not like the playoffs are on the line. The caveat here is that if Edmonton is looking at trading Eberle in the summer he should certainly stay welded to McDavid’s hip.

Whatever the Oilers think of or plan to do with Yakupov, though, his current assignment next to Letestu seems like a mistake. It’s not good for Yakupov, it’s not good for Letestu and it isn’t good for Edmonton.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Gadgets

    This is just silly. Suggesting Mclellan’s treatment of Yakupov is the issue instead of Yakupov’s play feels like its a millennial story about kids feeling entitled to everything. Maybe Willis wants Yak’s mom to call Todd.

    Weren’t we all cheering the fact that there seemed to be a lot more competition for spots at the start of the year? Now Mclelland has to “put him in a position to suceed”?

    Pucell and Eberle are better players and they are playing ahead of Yak on RW. End of story.

    Hall and Pouliot are better players that Yak and are playing ahead of him on LW. End of story.

    I like Yak, I hope he succeeds, I want him on the Oilers, there’s no need to trade him. But he is behind other players on the depth chart. End of story. Hall wasn’t, Eberle wasn’t. They weren’t “gifted” anything. They were slotted in appropriate spots. Where’s the “Luke Gadzic doesn’t get a good center” story?

    Yes, maybe having Yak play with Letestu isn’t helping him, but it wouldn’t help Purcell or Eberle either. If everyone was given the best centers to play with, who the hell plays the 3rd and 4th line?

    Go Yak! I’m cheering for you! If I saw you on the street I’d ask for your autograph. I just wish you’d play a little better and TAKE of of those spots.

  • Yakupov olays with Letestu because there isn’t anyone else for him to play with. The top six includes 4 wingers that are all higher on the depth chart and more trusted by the coach.

    That leaves Nuge, who is injured, Lander, who can’t produce. The only other option would be Hendricks, but that wouldn’t be any better than Letestu.

    Seriously, why write an article that essentially just complains about something nobody can do anything about. Wait until Purcell gets traded and then see.

  • Yak and Letestu don’t compliment each other at all. McDavid and Eberle are good together because they can read where one another will go and can setup up each other or score off of their rebounds. That was the case with Derek Roy and Yakupov. Do you really expect Letestu(came into the season as a 4th line faceoff specialist) to keep pace with Yak??

  • Out of curiosity can anyone imagine a push from the Oilers organization that would essentially reframe the body of work that is Yaks 4 year career?

    I mean c’mon man.

    He is what he is and the book of damning evidence is a veritable tomb compared to the book of suspect awesome that lies beside it. Great kid, heart of gold, big smile, engaging, great cellys.

    BUT

    • Great 48 games in his rookie year, great stretch of 22 games under Nelson, nice stretch paired with McDavid of I think 7 games.

      He’s had two long injury stretches. I actually think his body of work where he’s great is quite close to when he’s been poor. But when he’s been poor is often when paired with third or fourth line players.

      I doubt Eberle would be putting up points down on the fourth line playing 10 min a night either.

      Yak is not a stir stick like Hall, and he’s not a pure finisher like Eberle. He has tools, and when he plays with players that can unlock those tools, he’s been very good. When he doesn’t he’s been a non factor.

      But at his cap hit, he’s not worthless. Sure he may not be the most electric first overall pick yet, but that was a very poor draft year.

      Also people seem to forget that because they took the winger, that helped land Schultz, who at the time was coveted by every single team. So they didn’t pass Yak over for Murray because they were getting both the top rated player in the draft, and the top rated D man not playing in the NHL. In hindsight it looks poor, but at the time it was magical asset management.

      Galchenyuck, by the way, has 138 pts in 250 games playing a top 6 feature role with Montreal. Yak has 102 pts in 227 games playing god knows where whit god knows who on the Edmonton Oilers.

      And finally, say they did draft someone different, and that someone helped Edmonton either win or lose enough games to fall out of third worst team. Well then no McDavid.

      Of all the first overalls who have had to go through numerous coaching changes during the infibuild, Yak has had it the worst as the longest stretch of a consistent line mate was with Roy under Nelson. I don’t care how good you are, that’s going to be tough for anybody.

  • Yak treats the puck like a live grenade out there. far too many unforced turn-overs and in his own zone…What are you doing Yak?! I know he sucks defensively but do you really need to hold out your arm and point at “your” d-man at the point just to know that that is your guy, even when the puck is in the corner? Good grief, that the kind of basic BS you learn in pee-wee. Makes playing in your own zone basically short handed which then makes it tough to break out, which leads to goals against, as Yak is well accustomed to.

    I would use him on the 2nd unit PP, playing wing, on the half wall, firing one-timers and thats all. Just tell him to shoot and thats it.

    • I think you’re right. Whether it’s a lack of confidence or trying too hard or a combination of both, he seems to me to be regressing. With his inability to hit the net, he is now taking shots from poor areas.

      Right now he just doesn’t seem to be a threat. i think the highlight for him in the Jet game was hitting a dman with a shot a hurting him. It’s quite sad how low the bar has gone for him.

      I hope he’s spending an exorbitant practicing one timers on a daily basis. Those have to be his bread and butter. He doesn’t have to score every time. Just get a challenging shot away.

  • Jaxon

    JW

    you should include some stats with Derek Roy

    Last year I did some digging myself, after Derek Roy was acquired, Yak scored at a 50-55 point pace. I don’t recall if he was immediately put on Roy’s line but when Nelson was brought in as coach AND he was playing with Roy he scored around a 60 point pace.

    So yeah… there’s that

    It’s about chemistry with this player. Plain and simple. He has shown he can produce with the right players i.e McDavid and Roy.

    It’s quite simple – trade Purcell

    Hall/Leon/Eberle

    Pouliot/McDavid/Yak

    _____/Nuge/Kassian

    I’d also look for a deal with Nuge in the summer for a Dman

  • Another thing everyone needs to realize is the 2012 draft wasn’t good. IT HAPPENS.

    Ryan Murray can’t stay healthy… pass

    I was fine taking Galchenyuk, but he hasn’t lit the world on fire either.

  • MrBung

    Some players have it and some don’t. They hit a wall and can’t figure out a role to play in the NHL.

    Unfortunately, Yak is looking like one of those players.

    • Ramblin' Man

      Oh please, the kids 22. Most players don’t even get a sniff in the NHL until they’re 22-23. Its gonna be a long time until you can write him off as an NHL player. Actually, he already is an NHL player, just not a star player most 1st overall picks become, but definitely an NHL player

  • Ramblin' Man

    What would Chiarelli have to add to a Yakupov package in order to get Drouin out of Tampa?

    I’ve heard rumours that the Lightning are interesting in Schultz. Does Yakupov, Schultz, and a 2nd for Drouin make sense? Would Tampa consider doing this?

    • Mooseroni

      Why would you want to add to get Drouin? Drouin has worst numbers than Yak and has major self entitlement issues. If Drouin was playing on the third line and getting the Yakupov treatment He’d be refusing to play and sitting at home demanding a trade. Drouin can pound rocks, I’ll take the guy that’s Atleast trying to play

      • Ramblin' Man

        In my opinion, Yakupov won’t ever fit in on this team. I’ve never seen a player so lost out on the ice. He has no idea how to use his linemates and skates like garbage. Yes, he has a shot – but can’t find the areas to use it. Perhaps Yzerman would think he could fit in with the likes of his other Russian players, such as Kucherov. Also, getting a former 1st overall pick for a guy who wants out of your organization should be considered to be pretty successful.

        I suggested a trade for Drouin so it could be a deal around two players who need a fresh start. I never have been a fan of Drouin, especially after his World Jr, but Yakupov isn’t helping the Oilers one bit.

        Drouin is faster, more intelligent, more competitive, and I’m quite confident has more value around the league than Yakupov.

        Oh and by the way, Drouin does not have “worst numbers than Yak”.

        2014-15: Drouin = 2.07 pts/60, Yakupov = 1.58 pts/60.

        2015-16: Drouin = 1.79 pts/60, Yakupov = 1.66 pts/60.

  • Mooseroni

    Yakupov is the Alexandre Daigle of this generation. The only thing that somewhat saved his career was a few years away from hockey to try other things. Hope it’s not the same for Yak but I think something will have to change, and a new season is not enough.

  • Zamboni Driver

    Yakupov is dangerous.

    Sure. In his own zone. That’s all.

    Three years of brutal – not even a sniff with all his ‘world class talent’ and, of course….say it with me….Wicked One Timer™

    At some point the light will go on with so many of the blind faith. The problem is not a bad coach, or a bad centre, it’s a player who can’t really skate, is dumb as a bag of pucks, CANNOT SHOOT..

    Seems like a nice kid though. Hope the KHL is good to him.

  • Jaxon

    My two cents regarding Yakupov. I think they should hold onto him.
    Yakupov’s good stretches below.

    Rookie Season:

    2012-2013 with ? – 31pts in 48gp = .65 pts/gp (53 pt pace)
    – including 16pts in last 16gp playing with Horcoff and Hall for some of that time, Lander and Hartikainen for some, and Gagner and Paajarvi for some. = 1.0 pts/gp (82 pt pace). Led all rookies in goals and tied for pts.

    3rd Season:

    2014-2015 with Roy & Lander? – 15pts in 17gp (72 pt pace) that’s with terrible linemates and limited minutes.

    4th Season:

    2015-2016 with McDavid & Pouliot – 9pts in 9gp (82 pt pace)

    When he finds chemistry with his linemates or even has linemates that resemble top 9 players, he’s is gold. But they’ve never left him together with those linemates for very long.

    Plus his overall game has improved immensely. He looks like chaos, but it has been effective chaos. He gets himself on the right side of the puck and is quite conscious of his coverage and chips the puck to good places. Plus he hustles and hits.

    Please note that Yakupov’s Even Strength Scoring Chances Plus/Minus is the 5th best on the team this season with mostly terrible linemates.

    After 56 games played:

    1.-McDavid +3.07

    2.-Hall +2.78 (1.5 games with McDavid then with Draisaitl and Purcell)

    3.-Draisaitl +2.46 (all with Hall and Purcell)

    4.-Purcell +2.08 (his numbers have been pumped up by Hall & Draisaitl for most of the year)

    5.-Yakupov +1.93 (playing about 10 games with McDavid, the rest with 4th liners and AHLers)

    6.-Pouliot +1.64 (mostly with McDavid and Yakupov, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle and now McDavid and Eberle)

    7.-Eberle +1.62 (mostly with either Nugent-Hopkins and Pouliot or with McDavid and Pouliot)

    8.-Nugent-Hopkins +0.85

    Of the top 9, he is the only one that had predominantly bottom 6 linemates and he is middle of the pack. His SC+/- of +1.93 is also significantly ahead of 4th out of 8 if you take out soon to be traded Purcell. And for $2.5M per season! That’s the same cap as Korpikoski!!!!!!!! 13 players get paid the same or more than Yakupov. Kyle Palmieri just found his game at 25 yrs old. Hold onto Yak, he’s only 22 and we still haven’t discovered his potential.

    – Hall / Draisaitl / Kassian

    – Pouliot / McDavid / Eberle

    – Slepyshev / Nugent-Hopkins / Yakupov

    – Khaira / Lander / Pakarinen

    That lineup for 18 games or so will show you what you have (counting on Nugent-Hopkins getting back on March 1st and Slepyshev turning it on and earning a callup)

    • Jaxon

      In a way, yes, if you want to see what kind of player he is playing with top 6 linemates. But also, you’re discrediting his Scoring Chance +/- Numbers for this entire season being better than everyone but Hall, McDavid and Draisaitl that will be back next season.