Yak City Is Still My Home

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.

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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
charitable deeds.

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.

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Then it was overruled by, presumably, by management and possibly even Katz
himself.

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.

Neil Yakman1

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.

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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.

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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


  • ifiwasgm

    Oh ya, and before Maroon and Kassian, Yak was one of the only players (besides Hendricks) that didn’t run for his life when there was any kinda rough stuff going on.
    That alone was good enough to play him in more situations.

  • Zarny

    You know it and you don’t care. Yes, that precludes any sense of objectivity.

    By all means call YakCity home. By all accounts he’s a kid with a great attitude and well-liked by teammates. You can’t ask for more from the person.

    The issue of course is on the ice. I don’t think the Oilers should move Yak just to move him. There is wisdom to keeping Yak over a 2nd round pick or a B prospect; I suspect that’s why he’s still an Oiler.

    But YakCity has always been built on a foundation of disjointed logic. No, Yak didn’t get the same as the kids before him. Part of the equation is the circumstance of being 4th through the door; but part of the equation is Yak simply isn’t the same caliber of prospect.

    YakCity likes to portray Nail as the hard done-by victim denied the minutes and line mates his draft position entitles him to. They always seem to gloss over the fact that Yak’s draft position is the only thing that protected him from a trip to the AHL with Lander and Pitlick. It cuts both ways.

    Sure, Yakupov would have better numbers had he played with better line mates; so would Mark Letestu. But it’s not like Nail was a 40 G sniper with McDavid. He had all of 2 G playing with 97 and otherwise was simply surfing coattails.

    I don’t think the final chapter has been written on Nail, but we’ve seen enough to know he’s not an elite scorer. He doesn’t have the tools to be the player he was in Jr in the NHL.

  • Oilerz4life

    Yakupov is hugely inconsistent. He doesn’t belong in the top six much of the time or in bottom six either. The only way he’s been mishandled by management is where he would be better suited to develop in the AHL. No doubt he will be playing in the KHL soon enough.

  • S cottV

    Yak issues that lead to too many pucks in the wrong net – either directly or indirectly,

    Avoids play and or is ineffective at close quarters puck battles along the boards in all zones, negatively impacting possession potential.

    Very weak on the half boards in his own zone, to point where our d men avoid going his way on breakouts, limiting options and leading to turnovers.

    Will not take a body check to make a play. He likes to throw the odd body check, but won’t take one. Even small players must do this from time to time. Many times the right play – particularly in your own end, is to eat the puck on the boards – taking a hit in the process. Not Yak – he is either not there to begin with, or throwing it into the middle without proper support in place, mostly to avoid being hit.

    Jitterbugs with the puck beyond his ability to reliably control it, or to make effective reads about where to go with it or to make the right pass at the right time. This makes it very difficult for line mates to read off him, to support him, which all in all – limits puck possession.

    The jitterbug generally takes Yak into the middle, rather than driving the puck wide – that would otherwise establish at minimum – deep puck possession. Being off handed on the right side, also leads to jumping into the unstable middle – rather than a stable south to north wide drive.

    Too many shots at net, without the shooting percentage to justify it. A shot – is a potential turnover and that is exactly what happens with a lot of Yak’s ill advised shooting. He doesn’t get dinged for a giveaway but that is what it is, when the puck invariably goes the other way.

    Coverage in the d zone is very poor. Regularly allows opposition point men to sneak by him, for point blank opportunities. Gets confused on switches and ends up obliviously covering air.

    When he does have coverage, getting into and staying in the shooting lane is poorly done. No shot blocking – Yak doesn’t do that. He creatively finds a way to look busy, while avoiding being dented by a puck.

    On the back check – Yak is often back, but almost always chases the puck carrier – whom our d man has under control. He’s back but again covering air.

    I could go on but, to suggest that Yak is not a defensive liability – c’mon?

  • @Hallsy4

    I don’t buy the “Underdog” tag. First overall picks are not underdogs. I agree he wasn’t given the same treatment as the spoiled sexy boys but we complain about how they are gifted too much. Everyone should have to earn icetime (Thornton in his first few years didn’t play much). Yakupov is supposed to be a sniper with a big shot, yet he never scores, and he doesn’t help the team in other ways. Didn’t he have only 2 goals while playing with McDavid? Ebs, Maroon Ect all produce more when playing with McDavid. I have no room for a scorer who never scores and who continually is among the league leaders in n plus minus on my team.

    Yes Eakins is a tool and yak is the man, but we have to accept that draft year was just not good. Yak plays power play and just doesn’t ever score. He has had his fair chances. Wrong team for him, too bad, I like his attitude more than some other pre maddonas but he just isn’t as good.

    Trade him or keep him and bring Krueger back to run the PP. TRADE THE AMLL