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

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

    • Russian prince

      Love the kids heart and passion for the city. We always seem to get rid of the players who bleed for the team ( niinimaa, smid,…). Wish him the best. Wish he could stay.

      • dangilitis

        Wow, isn’t this the case of the pot calling the kettle black?

        Did Brownlee not post an article in the last several days that would seriously call into question his objectivity about Yak? One of a string of articles, in fact, stretching over the past 2-3 years?

        It is actually comical that Brownlee questions Henderson’s credibility as an authour. Apparently, Matt cannot authour an opinion piece on an Oilers blog, yet Brownlee has carte blanche to write about whatever he wants. The real irony of this comment is that Henderson, unlike Brownlee, actually states his personal bias upfront and presents a rational argument. I would call that honest reporting, but apparently this is a source of criticism.

        For what it’s worth, I would prefer to turn Yak into a warm body that fills an actual need on the current roster (e.g. top 4 RHD, top 6 winger with more experience). However, if the offers are for 3rd rd picks or flawed contracts or reclamation projects with lower ceilings, I would rather take my chances with Yak pencilled in as a top 6 forward for next season. Call it an all in bid. You hope that he produces in the first 30-40 games on a line with Pouliot/Maroon-McDavid- or Hall-Draisaitl- if so, then trade him if that’s still what he wants, or sign him to a friendly extension. Worst case scenario, he fails but hopefully you will have acquired a 2/3 RW in the off-season as an insurance policy, and his value can’t get much lower as it currently stands.

        • The only thing that’s comical is your reaction to a fair question.

          I’ve offered my takes on Yakupov since he arrived — some positive, some negative and you can look that up if you actually care about context — based on what I’ve seen.

          None of it has been coloured by loving or hating the player. I’m not an Oiler fan. I don’t cheer for the team or their players and I don’t cheer against them.

          I offer my opinions as a detached observer.

          • Johnny Larue

            I agree with Dangilitis you are not as detached as you claim. We can agree to disagree but I don’t buy your argument as a totally detached observer and I don’t think to many others do .

  • Coppertone1973

    Yakupov is essentially a one dimensional player, and that one dimension is offense. Put him in the top 6 and he MAY thrive, but put him in the bottom 6 and he will not.

    He wasn’t drafted 1st overall to be in your bottom 6, and if the team feels that there is no room in the top 6 or that he hasn’t “earned it”, then he should be traded.

  • ziyan94

    Oilers must keep giving Yak some time with a quality C, like how he’s with Drai and Hall right now. Consider how Eberle would play if they dropped him to the bottom six like how Yak was for the majority of the season.

    My biggest fear is that we sell low on Yak and then see him score 25+ goals a season somewhere else (he deserves it though, but I’d rather see him do that in Oilers silks).

    Like most people have said, we’d all be fine with keeping him if his name was Neil Yakman.

  • Druds

    I get it Matt, I dont agree with you but I also agree that he was not handled well here. I am of the thought that he has to go for his betterment and for the Oilers… Also we cannot, absolutely cannot keep everyone and still get better…sacrifices need to be made. We have top class forward talent and are still battling for 30th place….NOT acceptable!

  • Simpsonite

    Couple of things. Story only “broke” per se when the Russian media got it. The Yak folks kept it very quiet so that is something. It makes the possibility of staying in Edmonton much higher. Other pros I see are: he will hit people and hard, he does what he’s asked, he always gives it his best, and he can break your ankle with a slapshot. Something we’re sorely missing.

    Cons: Tons but do they outweigh the above? Not in my books. He actually hits people. HARD. And he’s, what, 22?? No idea why folks are on him so much but I would love it if he was given time to grow with some support.

    It’s funny when you look at the email dump that came yesterday and you can see how the media lobbied the NHL for suspensions and whatever. Of course they did. Had to fit their narrative. You can’t predict something is going to happen and then not have it happen. What kind of a reporter would you be? I suspect the same here. Media saying he’s terrible. Gotta make sure it fits what’s being said. Let’s up the pressure.

    My money is on Yak staying. Too good. Too young. Too cheap. And too community lovin for him to go.

    Yakcity. I’ll take the risk. (That should be an ON t-shirt!)

    • Mike Wazowski

      Love the person, about reached the limit of my patience with the player.

      He hits people hard — if he hits at all. his hitting is not consistent at all.

      He does what he’s told — you’re telling me someone on the coaching staff told him to stand around looking confused while in the offensive AND defensive zones??

      He can break your ankle with a slapshot — if you’re standing in the corner on top the boards. He has got to have one of the most inaccurate shots on the team.

      Too many Yak boosters shout at the top of their lungs that so-and-so wasn’t treated the same way but fail to see that the rest of the “original” draftees didn’t have anything ahead of them. It was sink or swim with them. Yak actually has to play better than the players ahead of him in the lineup. They are better offensively and defensively (but not great though).

      Don’t we all want the organization to break the cycle of “free minutes”?? Why should Yak be the exception?