Nail Yakupov fans got what they’d been calling for when coach Todd McLellan finally gave their man his chance to line-up alongside Connor McDavid again in the second period against the Anaheim Ducks at Rexall Place Tuesday. To understate, Yakupov blew it.
Benoit Pouliot set the stage for Yakupov’s opportunity alongside McDavid with a pair of penalties, including the kind of brain cramp that’s defined his vagabond NHL career – he hacked the stick out of Ryan Kesler’s hands for no reason. The Ducks scored on the ensuing power play in the final minute of the first period to take a 1-0 lead. Enter Yakupov.
OK, kid. Here you go. You’re playing with McDavid. Get after it. Yak fans rejoiced. It’s about damn time. It was 1-1 in the second on a soft goal by Leon Draisaitl when, at long last, Yakupov stepped back into the spotlight on centre stage beside the biggest name on Edmonton’s marquee and promptly produced the equivalent of doing a header into the front row.
Yakupov couldn’t get a handle on a puck cleared to him along the boards by Brandon Davidson and had it slashed off his stick by Jakob Silfverberg just inside the blue line. Kesler grabbed the loose rubber, then spun and spotted Silfverberg, who beat Yakupov going to the net and buried it behind Cam Talbot to make it 2-1. The Silfverberg goal is here.
Down the road, when fans debate what went wrong for Yakupov in Edmonton and why the Oilers moved him along, that goal by Silfverberg might stand out as one of those defining moments, a last straw. In some ways for me, it brought to mind the infamous “I just wasn’t into it” quote by Jason Arnott, a far better player than Yakupov, in the wake of a particularly bad performance before GM Glen Sather moved him along.
Moments like that don’t necessarily provide an accurate measure of a player’s ability or what kind of career he’ll have. In most cases they don’t – Arnott had a terrific rookie season in Edmonton, one in which he was runner-up to Martin Brodeur for the Calder Trophy. In New Jersey, Arnott scored the goal that won the Devils the 2000 Stanley Cup. He’d finish his career with 938 points in 1,244 career games. Arnott struggled at times in the spotlight here. He had off-ice issues. The “I just wasn’t into it” quote was what he was remembered for.
Yakupov, now 228 games into his NHL career, had his moment Tuesday. His calling card, the reason he was drafted first overall in 2012, was his ability to produce points. He has 102. He’s shown brilliant flashes, but he’s also one of the quirkiest players you’ll ever see. He’s provided more than his share of head-scratching moments for a carousel of coaches and his legions of critics and fans. In short, some good, some bad, a lot of what-the-hell?
Yakupov fans have complained long and loud about how much ice time he gets, the quality of linemates he’s had, what situations he’s used in and how he’s had to adjust to so many different coaches as he’s struggled, and failed, to establish himself. In the big picture, the 228 games he’s played, there are degrees of merit in some of those arguments. Others just come off as lame excuses. In the real world, where results matter most, at the bottom line, Yakupov hasn’t found a way to consistently deliver.
IN THE MOMENT
Yakupov got his chance Tuesday because Pouliot opened the door. Doesn’t really matter how or why he got it. What did matter was he got another chance from another coach and he didn’t only fail to make the most of it, he managed to make the worst of it. McLellan, obviously, was exasperated.
“He gets to take the ice time I took away from Poo. Not a lot of success there, either,” McLellan said post-game, when asked specifically about Yakupov. In a follow-up by Ryan Rishaug of TSN about opportunity knocking for players in general, McLellan added: “It was on a plate today for a couple of them. You couldn’t tee it up any better.”
No, you couldn’t. That kind of opportunity squandered, and the timing of it, sticks in the mind of a coach and a GM. Framed in that, I suspect Yakupov is out of chances here and that he’ll be moved along before next season, be it leading into the trade deadline or over the summer. Maybe McLellan and Pete Chiarelli had already come to that conclusion before Tuesday. I don’t know. Either way, I can’t see it playing out any differently now.
WHILE I’M AT IT
The other Oiler with one foot out the door is Justin Schultz, which is hardly a news flash given his price point and how little he’s produced this season. We’ll hear plenty of speculation about who might be interested and at what price between now and deadline day.
A week or so ago, Bob Stauffer of 630 CHED mentioned that the return for Schultz might be more than what people expected, that maybe he’d be worth a prospect. In his popular 30 Thoughts this week, Elliotte Friedman mentioned defenceman Anthony DeAngelo of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The item is here. Is there a connection?
DeAngelo got himself into trouble with the OHL as a member of the Sarnia Sting back in 2014. You can read about that here. DeAngelo, an undersized right shot D-man is with Syracuse of the AHL right now. Might Chiarelli and Steve Yzerman have something to talk about? Stay tuned.
- Word from the Oilers this morning is that Eric Gryba will be out a month because of the knee injury he sustained last night. That’ll put the brakes on any trade speculation involving Gryba.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.
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