Nail Yakupov shouldn’t be playing with Mark Letestu


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.

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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:

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  • 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.


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.


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.

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  • Slapshot

    Rumour has it the Oilers scouting staff where looking at picking Murray the defencemen or Galchenyuk the centre,they did not need another winger when they picked Yakopov,this is what happens when ownership steps in and over rules the scouting department.

  • Slapshot

    As mentioned, seems a foregone conclusion that Purcell gets traded.
    Assuming so, I agree with sticking him with Lander until the 2nd line spot opens up. Then it’s on you to make chia have to make a tough decision.

  • Kr55

    Has Letestu created a single play this year where he set up a line mate for an opportunity to take a shot on net for a good scoring chance at even strength? He has 2 assists at even strength and I never see him hold onto a puck and create anything in the offensive zone. Letestu’s offensive zone touches each night are on the PP when someone makes the mistake of passing to him and within 1 second the puck is heading back into our zone.

    Absolutely agree, Letestu is the worst kind of player to put with a player like Yak that needs to shoot and shoot often. He is never going to shoot on anything more than a rush he creates himself playing with Letestu, and very few players can consistently do anything all by themselves in the NHL.

  • Seanaconda

    Yak is going to get his chance next year. His trade value is zilch. If Ebs and Teddy are both gone this summer that cleans out the right side.

    The dream is that we can get a top 4 D (for Ebs) and our young guys take it up a notch back there. Davidson, Klefbom and Nurse all look good. If Reinhart can figure out how to play like he did with the Oil Kings he may be in the conversation.

    I hope PC redeems himself and unloads Letestu and Korp for a couple of 5th round picks.

  • Seanaconda

    Looking back, Larinov probably had the right idea that this wouldn’t end well. The trade return would not be good then, but it is definitely gotten worse now. No idea if a more diplomatic approach would have worked out better, because Oilers (management)…

    As someone else pointed out, the notable missing center in the list is Dri. Maybe after deadline they no longer need to showcase Purcell can Yak finally get a break.

  • “… McLellan’s handling of Yakupov has neither put him in a position to succeed nor showcased him for a trade.”

    Maybe it’s more about putting him in a position that is best for the team and not the individual. Which means very few minutes. Even if those minutes result in the team getting clobbered in the shot dept.

  • The Goalie 1976

    I sure like the sounds of a Kassian-Letesu-Hendricks line. I guess that leaves Yak playing on a different team?

    Probably the best thing for all parties involved to move on.

  • 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

  • BorjeSalming-IanTurnbull

    All the praise given’ to the coach for his past achievement’s is starting to bother the crap out of me. Watching Yak relegated to a 3rd or even forth line roll grinds my gears. Mark Letestifhehasapulse in front of Yak on the PP is crazy. The talking heads on CHED and SN talk ad nauseam about the need for a one time release on the PP. When Ralph was the coach he used his players in positions to succeed but Todd seems to continue to play the plugs???

    Is it just me? Does the rest of the fan base not see that players are being slotted in to areas that don’t make a ton of sense. You have a first overall pick wasting away and I blame the inability of the coaching staff. Yak could have been the star we all hoped he would be. But regime after regime keeps playing the guy will AHLer’s.

    Lauri Korpacan’tmakeapasstosavehislife is a bust
    Anton Lander is a bust
    Justin Shultz is a MEGA bust

    There are more positives than negatives moving forward but please for the love of God play Yak instead of Teddy. Teddy is all but gone so whats the harm. We’re not making the playoffs so experiment a bit.

    Bit of a rant. I’ve had a couple of adult beverages with some friends from Chicago. They roasted me for 2 hours.

    • Anton CP

      Love this^. Bro you know if Stuart never blocked yaks shot from the point on the power play it was going top shelf. BTW Stuart is out 4 -6 weeks. Because of it

      Can u say blistering slap shot one time omg.
      Even the announcer was surprised.

  • Seanaconda

    Best trade scenario is,
    Trade griffin reinheart back to nyi. Get nyi 1st and 2nd rounders and it would be the biggest steal in nhl history.

    (Scratches head)

  • Anton CP

    For whatever reason that Russians took a bit longer to develop and for whatever reason that they also don’t get a lot of chances from the get-go.

    Most of the Russian players hit their prime between age of 23~25, Russians do get held back more than any other nationalities for whatever the reason. So Yak is 22 as for now, and if peoples can be patient about it then he still have a chance to break out during next 2 years.

    The expectation for Yak due to he was No.1 pick gets a bit overblown. Unlike most of the other No.1 pick that they usually don’t have competition for their position that Yak was third on depth chart behind Eberle and Hemsky. Also only Forsberg has looked better from that year’s draft but Forsberg also got more chances due to the lack of offensive talents that Preds have.

    The reason why Krueger was able to maximize Yak’s talent by having third line minutes because he was playing and coaching in Europe for many years that he understood the strengths and weaknesses of Euro type players. Yak has a very tough start of his career, he has to compete for position, he has to deal with egotistic coach used him as sacrificial lamb. He reacted once and everyone just jumped on him for being whiny.

      • Anton CP

        Both Ovechkin and Malkin came in league a year later due to lockouts but they were a freak of nature. Otherwise for players like Kuznetsov, Panarin, Kucherov, and Tarasenko were hitting the prime around 23 (Panarin is 25 years old rookie).

        • Zamboni Driver

          There’s a small problem in the “he’s not getting a fair shake because he’s Russian” argument. Unlike everyone on your list except Kucherov, Yakupov came up through the CHL…which puts him at six years of North American experience and helped him to the #1 overall draft ranking.

          Does he have talent? Of course. But his modest results in the NHL including short burst of scoring and prolonged droughts every year, show his game – not that of his line mates – is too inconsistent to trust with regular top minutes.

          His speed is great in a skills competition, but is not evident in game settings. His shot is hard, but inaccurate and when he does use it on the rush, it tends to be a long-range wrister that won’t beat an NHL goalie, who then smothers it for a face-off so there aren’t rebound opportunities.

          The biggest disservice this team has done to this player isn’t his line mates. It’s keeping him in the NHL to drown instead of sending him to the AHL to develop his professional game and build personal success against higher quality competition than he faced in Junior and developing his defensive game.

          By mishandling this aspect of his development, they’ve stunted a player and a trade asset long before Nelson, McLellan and Chiarelli got to work with him. As for his success under Krueger…he had two games that season over 18 minutes and eleven games over 16 minutes, so he was still able to produce with lesser ice time. If he’s not going to be productive and create scoring opportunities with his talents in his current ice time, I see no reason to give him premium TOI to do more of the same.


    Yak will get top line minutes even if he has to play on his off wing when Purcell is traded at the deadline.They may be padding Ebs stats for a trade(as mentioned).

    Just because Chiarelli hasn’t blown-up this team yet, doesn’t mean he won’t. We all watched how he built the Big Bad Bruins and the Oilers are not Chiarelli’s style. Changes,BIG changes are coming.

    McDavid, is the ONLY player that really wants the puck and does all he can to get it back or keep it(just like Gretzky). If all our roster had his heart we wouldn’t be in this mess.Lazy is another word to describe our team. Why else are we losing all the board battles for the puck to smaller forwards?

    • Anton CP

      I agree, Purcell is almost certain will be gone as late as trade deadline, Eberle is definitely on the block if Chiarelli can get a very good return. Playing Eberle with McDavid help Eberle’s trade value that he will get a very nice return for at least first round pick and some top tier talents. However it is unlikely that Eberle will be moved before the end of season.

  • Anton CP

    Purcell and possibly one other top 6 (along with draft picks) will not be with this team come next season and I expect a top 2 right D and, hopefully, second pairing right D in return. Yak will be needed to fill in the top 6.

    Is he an Eberle or RNH who are the most talked about rumors. Absolutely not so there will be a downgrade in our top 6 but I still believe in him and our D has to be fixed. He can skate and shoot so paired with McDavid he could be great.

  • bigguy13

    Great piece. If the plan is to trade Yakupov, then he should play with McDavid.

    If the plan is to give him another year, then they should trade Purcell asap, and try him with Hall and Leon. Need to find out if he can play with anyone besides McDavid and produce.

    • Anton CP

      Not really though…Yotes are an extreme budgeted team, they actually pick up bad contracts (like Pronger) just so they can meet their cap floor. Yotes will have near 51m cap space by deadline compare to Oilers 14.8m.

      • camdog

        The Oilers currently have 4 NHL players signed to NHL contracts that are AHL players Nikitin, Ference, Gazdic and Korpikovski. Suffice to say we won’t be trading any of these players, however their does exist the possibility that we will trade for another one of these projects in the off season…

  • Anton CP

    I watch Yak a lot to see what he is doing. Sure he has warts but when put in a good position, he excels.

    I watch him now with his current linemates and they’re not to be seen. Yak drives the net a lot. And he fails to finish. That is on him. He doesn’t have Eberle’s or McDavid’s hands but there are rebounds. Where’s his support? I see him skate behind the net and throw it directly in front of the goalie yet no one is around because they’re all hanging out at the blue line. That’s not his fault.

    At some point, it is about who you play with. With McDavid, Yak was getting it done. With Roy, he was good but not great. With Letestu he’s road kill. Yak is a complimentary player. But so is three quarters of the NHL. The fans are just all over him because he was the #1 overall draft pick. If he was drafted in the 3rd or 5th round, would we still complain this much? I doubt it.

    It’s up to the Oiler to put him in a position to succeed. And clearly, they’re not. I hope that changes because I think there is a player there. And if he ever gets it going, he’ll be fun to watch.

  • DrillForOil

    The Yakupov situation is really representative of the sort of culture that needs stamping out. To borrow the Flames tagline ‘earned, never given’. What exactly has Yakupov done to deserve top line minutes? Why do so many insist he has a right to a top line spot just because of being a top pick. If he was a top pick talent he would have played himself up there by now. The hard truth is he’s not that player.

    • Anton CP

      ‘Earned, never given’ is one of the biggest lies in NHL.

      Majority of NHL players that start off from juniors have their own clique between each others families. You think that it is pure coincidence that quite a few of them came from the same family? Hockey is and will always be, a family business.

        • R U Kidding Me!

          Eberle didn’t produce very well all season with Draisatl or Nuge but he has with McDavid. He has scored more than Yak, but there was only one of those goals that wasn’t a tap-in. John Scott could have scored almost all of those goals.

          I would say that Eberle excels in open space, which is why he looks great 3-on-3. But other teams know that too, which is why guys like Buff know to take away that space and shut him down.

          • Seriously Bored

            So uh how did he score all those points before mcdavid came? And seriously you are going to say all those goals were tap ins? Maybe it’s cause he was in the right place at the right time?

            Eberle has some pretty solid numbers without mcdavid, yak does not. This season has been a slow one for eberle but he is still a good offensive player.

            Also for all those suggesting yak has spent his entire career playing with third and fourth line players that is simply not true. He spent plenty of time playing with Hall, eberle, rnh, etc and wasn’t producing at a level a top six forward should. It doesn’t matter if he scores more points with more minutes given when he is a defensive train wreck.

  • DrillForOil

    Maybe its time to stop spoon feeding Yak. Either produce or get rid of him. Are we going to go through the whole NHL to find someone to play with Yak. He has had lots of time to bring himself out of his slump. I don’t think he is an NHLer. KHL is better league for Yak. Lets move on.

    • Anton CP

      So, when did they even start spoon feeding him anyway? 21 out of 227 career games are actually played for more than 18 minutes. Not even 1/10 of his total career, so much for spoon-feeding. I think that Yak needs to find the silver spoon out from inside his Canadian teammates’ mouth.

      • Leaking5w-30

        If he hadn’t been such a defensive mess he would have played a lot more. And when he was getting big min he was -30 for the season. I think his +- was the worst in the NHL. Its tough to know what to do with him when his stats look like that. Where do you put him? KHL.

          • Oil City Roller

            We are not talking about other players, we are talking about Yak. I would love to see Yak do well, but until he slows down abit and starts using his head he isn’t going to make it. No body wants to play with someone that cant think on their feet.

  • Mike Wazowski

    @Jonathan Willis

    I haven’t seen anything since Yak was drafted that indicates he’s an NHL-level “sniper”. His one-timer is hard but is anything but accurate. It reminds me of a golfer swinging for the fences with his driver but can’t control it.

    Even though I love his hustle and attitude he has decent individual skills but doesn’t appear to know where to be in either the offensive or defensive zone. After four seasons he has to be able to pick some of that up himself. Putting him on the second line adds a serious detriment to whomever is on that line.

    What does Yak playing with McDavid accomplish? The argument that he was getting points seems limited as he had a grand total of 2 goals playing with McDavid. Most of his points came from assists. Eberle is at least scoring.

    Yak should likely be playing on the fourth line until he can show more responsibility. Either that or he gets traded.

  • It’s always been tough watching Yak get the short end of the stick, especially because when they do give him a centre he can play with, even one that isn’t even in the NHL anymore, Yak is capable of being a very dangerous player.

    Moreover, I think in addition to needing a solid centre, a different type of coach is needed for Yak. Both Kreuger and Nelson are definitely ‘player coaches’. They both were better at handling a young squad then any of the other coaches this team has had.

    And while I’m glad the team has McLellan going forward, I can’t help but wonder what might have been under Nelson.

    I would love to say maybe Yak gets promoted with Purcell moving out, but somehow I think they just shift Draisaitl over to the wing and put Nuge back in at centre.

    By the way, any update on Nuge?

    • Oil City Roller

      Yak does not have the right mentality to become a great NHL player. He dosnt have the mental gift to make it in the NHL. His frog in a blender style of play wont be god enough. But I hope I am wrong. Good luck Yak

      • Oil City Roller

        The guy was a 1st overall pick in the NHL draft. Led his team in scoring in his rookie year, but ya, he must not have the mental ability to play hockey…

        This is getting out of hand around here.

        • Gadgets

          Its not from lack of talent. He isn’t smart enough to pick up an extra guy on an odd man rush going the other way. He will skate right past him. What is this year 4 and he doesn’t have the hockey iq to play his position correctly. The talent doesn’t make up for it. Unless he gets 35-40 goals he isn’t worth having out there as a liability.

        • Gadgets

          Its not from lack of talent. He isn’t smart enough to pick up an extra guy on an odd man rush going the other way. He will skate right past him. What is this year 4 and he doesn’t have the hockey iq to play his position correctly. The talent doesn’t make up for it. Unless he gets 35-40 goals he isn’t worth having out there as a liability.

  • Leaking5w-30

    If Yak and Roy has so much chemistry last year maybe he should go and play with him in the Swiss League because his play is certainly not NHL worthy this year.

  • Tony Montana

    I would kick the tires with Tampa on Yak + a defensive prospect and/or a draft pick for Drouin. Both players need fresh starts. Drouin’s value is dropping as he sits at home not playing, and sadly, Yaks drops as he plays alongside plugs.

    • I like this idea except for the fact that Yak simply loves Edmonton, or at the very least has embraced it. He moved his whole family here, he’s crazy about the Esks. He does a ton of good for the community but not as a promotional thing, he just does it.

      I don’t think you get that same character with Drouin.

  • toprightcorner

    I believe the title for the post should read “Letestu shouldn’t be playing with Yakapov”

    LAnder was penciled in as 3C but failed miserably forcing their newly aquired 4C to move up to a position he wasn’t hired to do.

    I wouldn’t say Yak has excelled with Lander, 1.45/GPH in 44 minutes played. Basically Yak picked up an assist.

    I also wouldn’t call Letestu an offensive hole with 15 points compared to Landers 2 assists.

    The key is to bring in a 3C who has solid offence. I don’t see that happening this year as Nuge will probably bump Draisaitl to the wing when he returns to see what those lines look like going into summer where Chairelli has a lot of tough decisions to make.

    I agree 100% that Yakapov requires a skilled, smart centre to play with that creates the offense and allows Yak to finish or be involved in it. If he doesn’t get that, there is no reason to keep him as a more effective wing for that role can be found.

  • Oil City Roller

    Typical Conversation with Yak Blind Faither:

    Yak Faither – Yak was a #1 pick so he should get top line minutes.

    Sane Person – Yak should be getting more points for a #1 pick.

    Yak Faither – You can’t judge Yak on being a #1 pick!

    • The way I see it is we either trade him or keep him or let him bolt to the KHL. The only way we keep him is if he produces more then Ebs. As much as I like him he needs a fresh start like the one Phaenuf got(looks good for Ottawa so far). If we want more then a 3rd round pick for him then we need to boost his trade value. This season is already lost, what do we have to lose??

      • Ryan14

        I just don’t think we can fool GMs by playing him with Connor.

        After the first 14 games with McDavid, were Oiler fans or fans around the league saying “wow, Yakupov has figured it out. He has turned his game around” or were they saying “McDavid makes Yakupov look like an NHL player”?

        I would go with the latter. No one thought Yak figured it out. He was still Yakupov. He was just Yakupov riding the coattails of a generational talent.

        Switch the player; if the Oilers put Korpikoski with McDavid, are people all of a sudden saying “Korpikoski: top 6 player” or are they saying “Korpikoski: slug riding the immortal powers of McJesus”?

    • Ramblin' Man

      Brendl yes, but Daigle. No way. I get your comparison but it is far from the truth. Daigle played over 600 games and had over 300 pts. Yak won’t even come close to that. He is a huge bust. Brutal player. Will be in the khl or nhl in 2 yrs and play there most of his career. That fact that he was compared to being the next Bure is like a car salesman saying a Camry will become as good as the GTR in time. Lol.

  • smiliegirl15

    How many times did Yak miss the pass from McDavid, whiff on a shot or just be in the wrong spot? Yes he scored goals with McDavid, but I think pretty much anyone could. Eberle and McDavid will score a lot more goals together because Eberle is a finisher. He thinks hockey and right away, he and McDavid were on the same page.

    I’ve wanted Yak to succeed and have cheered him on but he’s so frustrating to watch sometimes. It’s like he’s in panic mode every time he’s on the ice.

  • You just got LITT up!

    Um … How come yak can’t make the players around him better? Yak fans always claim he plays w/ bums! Shouldn’t a 1st overall make other players better? Yak is a bum! Later.

    • Ryan14

      Come on, are you just Gregor or Rishaug in disguise?? You know those so called experts who hate Yak so much and have this unhealthy love-in with Taylor Hall. One day we will get another sports station so we don’t have to listen to the drivel they spout day after day after day….I can only dream…I hope Yak gets traded soon so he can go to another team and get his career back on track. Zamboni Guy was right about one thing, Yak is a nice kid, too bad we don’t have more like him and less like Hall. Can you imagine how the fan felt who had Hall sign her hat with the words F**k Off? How dare that lady bother poor little Taylor for an autograph. Yak signed my grandson’s Oiler hat during an Eskimo game his draft year and he stood there for literally over half the game signing stuff for people until everyone single person was looked after. Can you see Taylor Hall doing that, I highly doubt it. It’s not that I hate Hall, I just don’t like him as a person and he is just about the stupidest hockey player who has ever worn our jersey.