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

  • S cottV

    The Nuge injury is a real pain in the @ss.

    We could have seen a number of reasonable combinations, from which PC could make better decisions, about who stays and who goes.

    I’m sure Kassian isn’t thrilled with Letestu either.

  • Seanaconda

    Yak is still only 22 years old and has a great skill set. Given time to develop those skills within a good system under quality coaching should yield a high quality player.

    Playing him with a gifted center who can constantly set him up has already worked with McDavid.

    His contract is cap friendly… his trade value is low… geez, maybe we should keep him?

    • Romanus

      Guess what it didnt actually work from a goal scoring perspective. McDavid only set him up once, Hall the other one in those first 13 games. However for some reason Yak was able to get some good assists and his overall play was better.

      I like Yak, but he is too erratic and hard to set up because hes never in the right place.

  • It’s frustrating to see that management and coaching changes have not improved the team, at all. Lander and Yak have regressed under the new regime after Todd Nelson helped reignite both of their careers last year. Chiarelli failed to address the defence. He overpaid dearly for a future 3rd pairing guy in Reinhart, especially considering how many left defensemen we already have on the roster. The Korpikoski trade deserves an F. The Letestu acquisition has been very underwhelming. Depending on Jultz and marginal players like Gryba and Fayne to carry the right D was bound to fail. Sekera, Kassian and Talbot were good acquisitions but it hasn’t been enough to turn the team around. Chiarelli needs to do much better this offseason.

    • lucky

      I liked the game Todd Nelson had the boys playing, such a breath of fresh air after the complete and utter Eakins disaster, and would have liked to see how Julian could have progressed with the addition of a game changer like McDavid and some (at least) league average goaltending. There is something to a coach that has the ability to get the most out of his players, it is one intangible that tips the scales in favour of success. Nelson was able to do that, and after all the hype have not seen evidence of same from TMac. Have you seen this team firing on all cylinders yet? How many games can you say they outworked the other team? Too many players underperforming, team not showing up until the game is half over, same lame sound bytes after one goal losses. Nelson even found a way to have Yak contributing paired with a rental the likes of Derek Roy. McLellan is here for awhile, I get that, but he better start getting the job done. It’s not all on the players.

  • Romanus

    I agree 100% agree with Willis. Somehow, I guess, Yakupov forgot how to score after getting drafted consensus number one overall based on his offensive output, not his defensive prowess. He was even in the running for rookie of the year. He also played very well with McDavid this year.

    He has never been put in a position to succeed except for very brief stints. Some argue that he does not deserve top 6 minutes but this does not seem to apply to Mclellan’s favorites- Eberle, Pouliot, Purcell. Night in and night out McLellan is not fielding the best lineup possible to win.

    Last I checked the Oilers are once again in the bottom 8 in scoring with a pathetic PP on this supposed “juggernaut” of offensive talent. Why not let Yakupov have top 6 minutes and PP time as they have been out the playoffs for well over a month now? What do the Oilers have to lose at this point?

  • Stack Pad Save

    I have found Letestu to be a huge dissapointment. I was hoping for a strong, aggressive 3rd or 4th liner who could chip in offensively and I find him to be weak on the puck and almost Belanger esc. I don’t get why McLellan likes him so much, he doesn’t even win key draws.

    • lucky

      Thanks for bringing this up… I agree with all your points here.

      This guy drives me nuts, when I see him on the power play. His next face off win on the power play , will be his first.Usless,on boards, cant win puck battles. In fact most times he turns away on the play.

      I am beginning to think he and McLellan have a
      ” thing goin on”.

      Think about it, McDavid is on bench and Letestu is on the power play.

  • S cottV

    I still believe he should have gone back with Connor once he returned from
    Injury. He’s not in the long term plans clearly, the least that could have been done was maximize his trade value, which is near zero right now.

  • Puckluck

    As much as I like Yak, the best for him right now might be getting a fresh start with another organization.

    Point well taken that his trade value is virtually non-existent… maybe in a package deal?

  • Oilers Coffey

    Great read JW
    My heart goes out to Yakupov.
    The Oilers organization has basically destroyed his career.
    Sending anyone off who was able to get Yakupov going in the right direction. Or never having depth at center or quality nhl players to play along side.

    Krueger
    Nelson
    Roy whom I’d have on this team way more than Letestu!

    I hope Yakupov gets his opportunity in another nhl city. His confidence has been shattered being an Oiler. Sad reality.

  • Oilers Coffey

    Yakupov is a likeable player and I wish him no ill will. Having said this I do not believe he is an NHL caliber sniper as about half of ON seems to think.

    I am unable to identify an NHL level skill which he possesses. He is a mediocre skater, he has an inaccurate and inconsistent shot/one timer, he is defensively mediocre, he is not a sniper because he can’t score, he is not a playmaker and he does not read the game well at all.

    He would appear to have 1 year of experience four times instead of four years experience.

    This would be a case of addition by subtraction. Get whatever you can for him and move on.

    • Seanaconda

      Actually his individual skills aren’t too bad. He is actually a pretty good skater someone said he was a fraction of a second behind halls time for fastest skater ?. Hard shot . World juniors he was always an amazing playmaker. He just hasn’t put it all together yet. He may not ever .but he def has nhl level skills.

  • Jehu23

    I choose to believe the following – even though it is all made up speculation in my own head:

    1) Ebs is being showcased and driving his value up for a summer deal, Purcell showcased for immediate deal

    2) Yak is being suppressed in order to keep his value down since he will be retained and promoted to 1RW or 2RW next year

    Justification: PC & TM know 10 can be an effective player with 97, and they want to keep potential RFA$ down after seeing previous regime’s Jultz fiasco. This is modern day cap management in the guise of restricting minutes and OZ opportunities of a controllable asset