I held back. I bit my tongue. I didn’t write it down because
everybody was too busy getting their licks in, and I wanted to see what was
going to happen. But, in the back of my head, there’s been a voice growing
louder and louder. It’s saying “I don’t want Yak to go!”
It’s true. I don’t want the Oilers to trade Nail Yakupov. I
know everybody has been using Yakupov’s spine as the steel against which they
sharpen their knives, but not me. I love the kid.
I have. I do. I always will.
There’s just something in me that prevents me from being mad
at him. Maybe that speaks to my problems as an observer, but that’s fine by me.
I can live with having a few blind spots, and I’ll at least own up to them.
I am fully aware that Nail Yakupov is a former first overall pick who hasn’t even cracked 40 points in any of his four seasons.
Yeah, maybe there’s an excuse for the 48 game season but after that you’d have
to think a kid who scored the way he did in junior should have done more in the NHL
afterwards. I know! I know it like the people who can’t stand the guy.
Still, I was born and raised on Edmonton’s North side and I’ve
been conditioned to cheer for underdogs. As first overall picks and
Oiler forwards go, this kid is the underdog. The way he became an Oiler and the
way he’s been handled since then is enough for me to cheer for Nail Yakupov, and
that’s not even getting into his personality, dedication to the city, and
As Mark Spector outlined a few days ago, the Oilers scouting
staff was apparently very heavily in favour of Ryan Murray as the top pick in the 2012 Draft. They wanted Murray number one more than every major scouting
service and every scouting poll by TSN’s top dogs. They were going to get the
piece on defense they didn’t think they had and that was it.
Then it was overruled by, presumably, by management and possibly even Katz
No matter which way they decided it seems the Oilers were destined
to get a flawed player. If it was indeed Ryan Murray, there’s no doubt in my
mind we’d be talking about how he was made of glass. He played one full season
out of four years in the WHL and this is going to be his first full season out
of three in the NHL. He’s been healthy two of his last seven seasons.
You can bet your life the alternative to Yak would have been
labelled a bust as a first overall pick too.
So the scouting staff never wanted him, but how much does
that affect how he’s been handled since then? I have no idea and only they can
tell you. Yakupov has always been a player one mistake away from dropping to
the next lowest line. It makes a heck of a lot more sense knowing the only guy
who went to bat for him in the organization was stationed in Europe.
No, I don’t think Yakupov has been given a fair shake, or at
least he hasn’t been given the same as the kids who came before him. He wasn’t fed
minutes no matter how bad he was in his own zone. He wasn’t gifted long
stretches with good linemates. The longest single season amount he even spent
with a center was the 534 minutes he spent 5v5 with Derek Roy.
That’s a player who isn’t even in the NHL this year! All we
have are small sample sizes of him with (mostly) flawed centermen taken over four
years. For example, he has 426 minutes with RNH over his career. That’s just
14% of his entire time 5v5. Even Sam Gagner, who Nail spent the most time with
in his career even though he hasn’t been an Oiler for two years, still only
accounts for 19.9% of Yak’s minutes.
Compare that with the stability that Jordan Eberle has had
with his center. Over that same time period, Eberle has spent 62.9% of his time
with RNH. Since the two of them have been healthy at the same time, Eberle now
gets Connor McDavid. That’s great. Eberle is a proven goal scorer and point
producer. However, that stability is not a luxury Yak has been afforded and we
can’t pretend he has.
So here we are, at the end of another lost season, and Nail
Yakupov confirms that his agent was working on getting the kid out of Dodge.
Yeah. No kidding. I would have fired my agent if he wasn’t doing that. Edmonton
didn’t want the kid. They’ve had him playing with Mark Letestu most of the year
even though he looked fantastic with Connor McDavid to start the season. If he is going to succeed the Oilers haven’t made it a priority for most of his time here.
He raised his two-way play up considerably, just like he was
asked to do, and there wasn’t any change in his utilization. The numbers back up
the eyes in this case — he’s much better at digging pucks out from the wall and
exiting the zone than ever before. His CA/60 is lower than it ever has been and his CF% is higher
than it ever has been.
To me, Yak has looked great when he’s been given an
opportunity in the top six this year more than ever. He played 202 minutes 5v5
with McDavid for with a 2.38 P/60 in that stretch. He only has
(hilariously) 227 minutes with Taylor Hall over his career and he produced 2.91
P/60 in that time. So there are your top two lines in Edmonton moving forward.
No, I don’t want Yakupov gone. I want the Oilers to keep a
2.5 million dollar winger who looks like he can produce very well when he plays
with Edmonton’s top two players. But it seems like a pretty foregone conclusion
that isn’t going to happen. And you’re damn right I’ll be bitter about it for
a while. As shocking as it might be, I’d rather have Nail Yakupov than a second round pick or a B prospect.
I call Yak City my home and I’m going to miss the enthusiasm
and emotion he plays with. He hasn’t produced enough. I know it. I don’t care.
He moved his family out here when he didn’t have to. He occasionally provides good meals and A+ shelter to those in need. He loves his dog to the point where
it’s almost weird. He loves to score goals and celebrate with his teammates.
While others are happy to write him off as a bust, I’ll just
keep cheering for the kid that nobody in the organization even wanted. I don’t want
him to go and I will be sad when he does. I’m perfectly happy to say as much.
All stats from stats.hockeyanalysis.com