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

  • Spydyr

    Get over it. He never lived up to his potential here. He is a draft bust. Time for him to move on.It would be best for both him and the team at this point.

      • Spydyr

        Yes, he is from the generation where it is always someone else’s fault and they don’t hold themselves accountable for their shortcomings.

        If you want more minutes and better linemates earn it.

        Participation trophies for everyone!!!

  • 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!

    • 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 .

  • Gadgets

    For anyone that doesn’t want to read the article, here is a brief summary…

    “Waaaaaaaahhhh, my favorite player might get traded! Waaaaaahhhh, its everyone else’s fault”

    The end

    • Valar Morghulis

      This is the kind of stuff that keeps me away from this website. I think many people probably agree with the opinion of the article. Heaven forbid it upsets some little junior high kid though.

  • 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?

  • CMG30

    The biggest problem with Nail has nothing to do with Nail and everything to do with the Oilers.

    They don’t have room for him in the top 6 and, as Matt pointed out, the top 6 is where Yak fits.

    Now, Yak sill has his flaws but some team is going to get a really promising reclamation project.

  • Morgo_82

    Considering the Oilers have been giving Yakupov the shaft since he’s been here I’m not surprised he wants to get moved to a team that will play him more than 12 minutes a night on the third or fourth line and don’t give me that “he’s had his chances” line, anytime he starts scoring he gets moved right back down with players that have no clue how to score.

    The only reason I want to see him moved it so everyone can move on and he can have a chance at being a successful NHL player, I’ll always cheer for him and that includes if he plays for the Flames or Canucks; don’t have to like the team to like the player i.e. Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk or Al MacInnis, they were beauties.

    I await your trashes.

  • DannyGallivan

    IMHO he has been given a pretty good chance and did not deliver. I like the guy but he did not work here. My concern is if we keep him knowing that he has not delivered then an ineffective player takes up a space on a line where, potentially, a more effective player could play.

  • Leef O'Golin

    Yeah, I get it, it’s too bad it didn’t pan out. He seems like a good enough kid that tries hard, but it’s not happening. I don’t really buy the “underdog” angle, but I say by this point he should be raising the level of his line-mates play rather than sinking because of them. We keep hearing that the Oilers should hold on until he raises his trade value, but at what cost?

      • Leef O'Golin

        True enough. Without considering his draft pedigree, the Oil have a young, under-sized winger with limited physicality, an unrealized potential for offensive upside, and serious defensive liabilities. It seems like they want to move away from this model regardless.

          • Classic “Watch the games, Nerd” line. Totally valid and in no way a cop-out by you at all. He hasn’t been a defensive problem the same way he has been in years past. It just isn’t true to say that he has been, but it’s a convenient lie.

          • hockey1099

            It is not a lie. Yak has actually benefited playing with 3rd liners with defensive aptitude that can make up for his mistakes. Our team is also vastly improved under McLellan’s system and Talbot’s goaltending so fewer of his mistakes end up in the back of our net. That said he still blows coverages all the time, turns pucks over at the blue lines and fails to get out it out of our zone.

          • hockey1099

            Point being? I was commenting on hendersons opinion concerning yaks defensive liabilities. Whether Taylor hall is a defensive liability or not in no way makes yak a better or worse defensive player.

          • McRaj

            He’s a oilers second worse minus 17. -2.2% Corsi Relative. -1.9% Fenwick Relative. -13 giveaways to takeaways. All while starting 52.6% O-Zone. Worst shooting percentage of any Oilers forward who has played regularly except Lander.

            Matt, nothing wrong with supporting Yak but you have to be easy on the favouritism. He is a liability in the D-zone due to his lack of Hockey IQ.

          • Where are you getting your CorsiRel number from? Stats.hockeyanalysis has Yak at 0.8%CF RelTM and 0.9% FFRelTM.

            He also has the 9th lowest OZFO% (Forwards only) and is less than 1% off of the DZFO for Hall and Draisaitl.

            And his giveaways/takeaway ratio is almost identical to Eberle.

            Nothing wrong with not supporting Yak, but don’t make up numbers to do it.

          • McRaj


            Hockey reference is my source. I don’t need to make up numbers to justify that he is not good in the D-Zone.

            And I actually do support Yak, love the kid, and wish him all the best to succeed. But I do not over value him like you do. And I like how you took bits and pieces from different players. While I agree that Yak never received the leash Eberle, Hall, or Nuge did, there is no way you can sit there with a straight face and say he is anywhere close to the player’s they are.

          • McRaj

            Okay I can agree with you that he has improved. But his improvement isn’t something that you can say has removed the “liability in the d-zone” label from him.

            Listening to Robin on the Gregor show right now, he states that Yak may not even make it to 400 games in this league. The kid has a lot of energy but has 0 clue on positioning and how to succeed in the league.

          • McRaj

            Absolutely we all have our own opinions. I too would be shocked if Yak can’t hit 400 games and I too think he can be a top 6 player but I would not say he is a bonafide top 6 player. If he succeeds to be a 20 goal player I would not be surprised, but if he fails to hit 15 goals, again I would not be surprised. Maybe by the end of next season, wherever he plays, we may get a better understanding. But right now, he looks a lot closer to one of the worst 1st overall picks than he does to a top 6 player.

          • Gadgets

            Improvement defensively does not mean he doesn’t still have significant defensve liabilities which is what you were suggesting.

            This line removes pretty much all objectivity from your argument – “I reject the notion that Yakupov has serious defensive liabilities anymore. I haven’t seen it this year.”

            I suggest you find a ladder and then try rejecting the notion of gravity. You will probably have as much luck.

            I like Yakupov. I really do, I really, really want him to be successful with the Oilers, and if not here, then somewhere else. But you are bradleypi’ing the hell out of this.

          • McRaj

            But Matt both the numbers and eye-test suggest he is. Coming back to the zone on a back-check and skating around while losing your man is called being a defensive liability. His defensive issues are not due to a lack of effort, but due to a lack of understanding of positioning. You are probably the only person who would say he is not a defensive liability.

          • McRaj

            Perhaps you didn’t read the link I posted to Hockey Reference which clearly show he has a negative corsi and Fenwick relative to the tram. Come on Matt, take your yak fever glasses off.

          • McRaj

            I did look at stats hockey analysis and left confused. Can’t seem to figure out where you see those numbers. Also, hockey reference updates their figures daily. I doubt that two different websites would be so very different. Matt you are the only person who is suggesting Yak isn’t a liability. Most people here aren’t even bashing Yak, everyone is just stating the obvious. We all have our favourites and support them but we don’t make insane statements.

            Also read the article I posted which states how bad defensively Yak is. It also states that players like Benn and Duchene are not good in their zone either so you cannot even say that it’s biased. Yak has potential but he is still a liability in the d-zone, most nation readers, analytical people, hockey insiders, etc would agree with that statement.

          • McRaj

            While I agree with Schultz being a defensive liability, and I am not a big fan of Korpi either (even though he has more goals, points, hits, blocks, and takeaways than Yak) . But Korpi averages 2 minutes a night on the PK. How can you call him a defensive liability? Are you suggesting that TMac doesn’t know what he’s doing. He should put yak out there on the PK instead?

          • You want to take a guess what happens to the PK when Korpikoski steps foot on it?

            Yes, McLellan is making a huge mistake playing him on it. Coaches make bad choices all the time. This is one of them.

            McLellan would be better off putting almost any other Oiler on the PK, though truthfully it should be McDavid.

          • McRaj

            Matt, I have never seen someone defend Yak’s DEFENSIVE game to the length you are going lol. And also earlier you said “a few years ago yakupov was a defensive liability”. Let’s assume that by a few you mean 3 which would be 2013. Are you also suggesting that since 2013 Yak has not been a defensive liability? Which would mean that last year he was not a liability?

            If your argument was based on Yak having top 6 potential, or Yak not receiving the same leash as Hall and Ebs, 100% I would agree with you. But your arguing about Yak’s defensive game. If 4 coaches have not been able to trust him defensively, I’m sorry but the guy is a defensive liability. You need to accept that and move on sir.

          • My argument about his defensive game is simple. It has improved noticeably to the point where he is no longer a liability. He isn’t a shutdown forward or even defensively good, more benign than anything else. That is reflected in the better measurable results we see with his shot attempt metrics.

          • Oil City Roller

            Just think about what you’re saying. I get it that every other coach was either a bum/idoit/clown. But what about TMac. Why has he choosen to use Yak in this role. What you are saying in essence is TMac is either a bad coach who can’t see a simple solution to the Yak problem or, TMac has a personal vendetta against Yak that developed in about ten games. Or maybe, just maybe, you are wrong and Yak does not play the game the right way and the coaches are tired of beating a dead horse. What am I saying, of course you know more about the game than TMac.

  • Randaman

    No wonder Katz never feels the pressure to build a winning team.

    Constantly accepting losing, not being willing to trade our fan-boy stars, etc.

    This is why we can’t finish above 28th, 29th or 30th.

    Trade him and move on already

  • McPucker

    22 years old. 3 1/2 years in the league. It seems to me he has a good attitude. He obviously loves the game. He is going to learn and get better.

    On the flip side, he is a frustration to watch at times but how much of this is because we look at him as a #1 draft pick?

    As a coach, you love the attitude but you don’t want someone around who doesn’t want to be there. I don’t know if the fault here sits with Yak and his ego/impatience or the organisation’s failure to communicate. Likely some of both. Through the pre-PC era there were a few indications of poor communication. I hope that’s changing now.

    I cheer for Yak too. Maybe because I also grew up in North Edmonton. I hope he does well wherever he ends up.

  • Bubba Train

    Good description of how Yak has been managed and there is absolutely no way to absolve Oilers management of at least some responsibility around Yak’s lack of success.

    I also read that Yak was third highest point producer in his draft class. Doesn’t sound like a bust.

    Oilers lose most of their trades so I do not expect them to win a Yak trade.

    Having said this, I’m not convinced Yak will be traded. Likely maybe, as he may be “odd man out” but remember it was Yak’s agent shopping him, it was not Chia. I could see a roster where due to changes, Yak ends up with a steady center and brings huge value as a 2.5M winger. Could happen.

    my prediction though, Yak and Pouliot are out in an attempt to align more toughness with skill. Their (2.5+4.5) 7M cap hit goes towards a big veteran presence such as Andrew Ladd.

  • T.J.F.M.

    I remember that the scouts were also VERY high on Griffin Reinhart and while he might not have been the consensus #1 overall, they were debating a trade down to take him.

    4 years later and it looks like we traded:

    #16 overall + #33 overall (in one of the deepest drafts) + our #1 overall in 2012 for #4 in 2012 and whatever spare part we end up getting back from the Yak trade.

    This is how poor managed teams stay bottom feeders. This is why we have ZERO depth in our organization. And this is why we will continue to dwell in the bottom of the standings for the next few years.

  • I too like the kid and I too don’t think he was given a fair shake for whatever reason. I see the biggest prejudice against him is his first overall selection which wasn’t his choice. It is over and in the past and it was a crappy draft year. If you look at him from a purely offensive output per dollar, he is what he is. I do think that given a good offensive minded center and some time to gel he could be a decent 2nd line scoring winger. If that doesn’t fit in the Oilers plans then they should trade him for like value and not just give him away. He is for sure not a bottom 6 player in this league.

  • Wildebeest on skates

    In order to miss the play offs nine years in row a team has to do a lot of things wrong. Yakupov is just one of those things. While there may be two sides to this pancake my hopes for next year just took a hit. Although they didn’t start the problem a little bit of Chiarelli’s and McLellan’s credibility walks out the door with Yak.

  • Oilers Coffey

    Great article. You and I could have wrote our feelings out and come up with almost the same script!
    Nail Yakupov is still my favorite player. A great kid, he comes from a very humble and kind family. He’s a breath of fresh air for wearing his heart on his sleeve!
    #YakCity #TeamYakupov

  • #ThereGoesTheOilers

    The plan is to get diversity in the line-up, right? At least that’s Chiarelli’s M.O. No disrespect to him, but Yak is another small player. He’ll be one of the first to go in pursuit of the vision.

    He might have been excellent in our top 6, but because of how he was handled we’ll never know.

    Nail, you got the sh***y end of the stick and it wasn’t your fault. Yakcity will always exist in my heart.

  • Namudi

    His shot is lightening speed imagine mcdavid lightning speed with yaks lightning shot. Eberle sure messed up last game omg those shots he missed he was terrible

  • My frustration with Yak is that he has a great one timer, but isn’t accurate, he can make moves but can’t finish on breaks. He’s supposed to be a goal scorer but has trouble scoring from goal scoring positions on the ice.

    However, all that pails in comparison with my frustration on how the player was used. They keep asking him to change his game, and it looks like he’s worked on a lot of those areas. Or at least the coaches are saying as such. No one is complaining about Eberle or Hall’s lack of defensive awareness. But that is the knock on Yak. All those years in the basement only to draft 1st overall, waste the talent, trade him for pennies on the dollar. If they wanted a defensive player, why not just draft defense? Not that Murray, a left shooting D man, would be helping the team in any major way either.

    I don’t think Yak is a bust in the mold of Stephan. He is an unprecedented bust because of how he was handled by the organization.

    Here’s hoping Chi can work his professional experience and get something of value for him.

    Having said all this, despite how I view Yak, I think with Draisaitl, Kassian, and Eberle able to play RW, well maybe there isn’t a spot for Yak on the team.

  • Oil City Roller

    I don’t know man. I would kind of agree with you but I read the interview Yak gave the Russian journalist and he outright says nothing about this situation is his fault at all. Nothing. He also says there is no way this can be fixed in Edmonton. To top it off, it’s not like he gave the interview months ago and it is just now coming out to his surprise. He gave the interview two weeks ago. You can’t tell me every single coach has magically been against Yak for no reason. I think they all see the same thing. A guy with a huge ton of flaws in his game and absolutely no desire to even acknowledge much less change them. If you don’t believe me I would suggest reading the interview in full.