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

  • Neilio

    I couldn’t have said it better Matt. The Oilers management didn’t want him, and after Katz overruled them, they’ve done nothing to afford Yak the same opportunities at The Core. They made him, and only him, work his way up from the bottom of the lineup. They’ve cut off their nose to spite their face. Drafting a #1 OV player is rare for anyone but the Oilers, and they just ungratefully tossed one aside. They’ll take a year of our suffering to get him, and Yak’s early career and trade them for beans.

    People make a big deal about Katz getting involved with the decision, but those idiots were going to draft Murray #1! There was no way he’d ever be worthy of that. He isn’t even in the top 5 defencemen IN THAT DRAFT. That shows how terrible and dysfunctional this team is/was.

    I love Yak, and I think the worst thing to happen to him was to be picked #1st overall by the Oilers. He may never have been the 50 goal man some were projecting him to be, but any other team would have gone out of their way to make him into a player. And not squander an opportunity.

    If the Oilers win the lottery, and Matthews “pulls a Lindros”, I’m going to point to the Yak situation and tell you that’s why.

  • Wranglicon

    Hey Matt, couldn’t agree more. It feels like his play style is kinda ugly to watch from a coach perspective, so that goes against him. He looks very disoriented out there, not sure if he is or not. Maybe a lack of focus? Dunno. But I most definitely enjoy watching him play more often than not.

  • From the major listings Yakupov was the consensus #1 pick and so the Oilers played it safe and took him. Based on the history of the top 9 or so players drafted only Filip Forsberg, Matt Dumba, or Alex Galchenyuk could be seen as better but also playing on better teams with better players. I personally wanted Galchenyuk drafted but figured way to risky based on his injury. I for sure did NOT want Murray first overall.

  • Matt I don’t get why you have such a hate on for Schultz but not Yak? When you think about those two players they have a lot of similarities-

    Began their Oilers careers at around the same time, came in with much fanfare and looked impressive enough in their rookie campaigns. Unfortunately since then, they have both shown that they do not belong on the Oilers. Combine a complete lack of defensive awareness with the inability to contribute offensively given MANY opportunities, why the love for Yak and hate on for Schultz?
    Personally, I hate them both as they are both boat anchors who do not fit in with the team in any capacity. The Oilers need to move forward as a group. They were not doing so with Schultz, and they are not doing so with Yak.
    I won’t be sad when he’s gone. He made his bed, time to lie in it.

    • I don’t agree. Schultz was given EVERY opportunity to succeed and didn’t. Lots of PP time, offensive zone push etc. Yakupov didn’t get that same opportunity. I do agree that the Oilers mishandled both of them. Schultz should have been a 12-15 minute player with second unit PP time until proving better. It has to do with earning your ice time and most of the Oilers top 6 hadn’t really needed to do that until Yakupov came along. Was that due to the fact that the team could now force that due to players ahead of him?

      • What? Yak was given many PP opportunities, maybe not quite as many but he got a fair crack. I hate the ‘Yak had no chance to succeed’ bandwagoners. Read Gregor’s article which basically is the other side of the coin to this article and it’s easy to see what the stats actually say. None of this ‘his CA is better than before and his CF is better than before’. So what? slightly better than garbage is still bad, and its painfully obvious he doesn’t fit in with the team.

    • Schultz is an offensive player who failed while being put in an offensive role.

      Yak is an offensive player who has failed while being put in a grinder’s role.

      For the record, Yakupov is better in his own zone than Schultz.

      • I just don’t see it, making that assertion that Yak has been put purely in a grinder’s role. After giving him MANY opportunities (just look at his minutes and WOWYs with the ‘core’ players), he has shown he cannot deliver, so yea I don’t blame the coaching staff for burying him on the 3rd/4th line. If you are a defensive liability – which he is – and not scoring goals, what else do you expect?

        Blame it on whatever you like – language barrier, inability to listen or apply what is being taught, entitlement from being a no. 1 overall, zero hockey IQ… He simply does not play with a team mentality and is not committed to learning the defensive side of the game.

        Maybe he’s better in the d-zone than schultz, but at this point the Oilers can’t afford to be clinging on to players that provide little offence and are marginally better than Schultz in the d-zone.

  • The Whispererer

    Thank you Matt for writing the words that say what i’ve been feeling about Yak for a long time. He is a fine young man of good character who loves to play hockey, and does so with boundless enthusiasm. To my mind, it is mainly that last trait that has hindered his progress as he tries to do too much; if only he had a coach who could teach him how to rein that in and channel it efficiently.

    I will always be a fan, and wish him nothing but success and continued joy in the game wherever he ends up.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    There’s always been a different set of rules for Yakupov then the other kids. It’s too bad. If we move Eberle this summer, I think Yakupov at 2.5 million on McDavid’s wing would have been a good spot for him.

    I understand why this is going to happen but I wish Yakupov the best. Always liked the guy.

  • That's My Point

    From the 2012 draft:

    Galchenyuk: 154 points
    Forsberg: 125 points
    Yakupov: 108 points
    Hertl: 100 points

    Can’t see why anyone would say Yakupov is a bust. Is Hertl a bust because he has less points?

    How about Teravainen or Gostisbehere?

    They also have less points.

    Maybe they should be traded for 3rd round picks or other teams problems also.

    Where do people get this hate for Yakupov who was one of the best picks in the entire draft?

    I love Yak, he’s entertaining and talented and also can skate, shoot and hit.

    Ever see Eberle hit? EVER??

    Trade Yak and Eberle and the Oilers will have no right handed shooters on the top lines, which makes sense the way the team has been managed the last few years.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I’m hopeful in the coming months we’ll really see a new and improved Oiler organization when dealing with difficult situations like this.

    The last thing this organization needs is another Souray/Lowe slap fight.

    Still feel there’s a 25% chance the relationship can be salvaged. Would like to see Yakupov in the lineup with all the new bodies in the fall. They’ve fired just about everyone who doesn’t know how to deal with a player like him. Firing the player now only covers/exposes another weakness in this organization.

  • McRaj

    Matt, do you think we should keep Nuge, Eberle, and Hall as well? Let’s not trade anyone, let’s just add another top 3 pick and go into next season with the same roster. Eventually they have to turn it around right?

    I hope Yak goes on to another team and scores 30, he’s a good kid and seems to have done a ton in the community. But how can you defend his on-ice play? He lacks Hockey IQ, accept it.

  • City of McDavid

    My favourite Yak moment was scoring that goal against LA and illustrating one of the most amazing celebrations ever!

    I bought CHEL 16 hoping I could replicate it every time I scored.

    If he goes, his passion will be truly missed.

  • OilCan2

    Yak City is a good hockey address. He moved his family to Edmonton and I think that was the year Mr D Katz moved his family to Vancouver. Hmmm.

    When he racks up 50 points playing with someone like Stamkos or Malkin or Ovi next year the Oilers are going to be: Sore. Losers.

    All the best Mr Yakopov;….

  • 916oiler

    I do have a soft spot for yak and wish him well, but can’t wait to see him elsewhere! I mean that in a respectful way and hope he does well, but looking forward to seeing who else we bring in.

  • Pouzar99

    I love Yak, too, but he does have his flaws. He has poor puck sense and cannot process the game at high speed and he is prone to lose his man in the defensive zone. The key is the massive difference between his play on a Top 6 line and his play with the bottom 6. He HAS to play Top 6 to be successful. Sadly, he and Schultz were probably the most damaged by their time under Eakins and the coaching carousel all the players had to endure.

    I hope Chiarelli holds out for reasonable value in a trade and that Yak is not traded as a result. I think McClellan is a terrific coach, but Yak is the one player he has not handled well.The first 13 games were fine, but Yak was poorly handled after McDavid went down, then Yak got hurt and was played with the wrong guys when he came back. There is no question that you can’t have four relatively small players (RNH, Hall, Eberle and Yak) in your Top Six in today’s NHL, so at least one, quite possibly two, will and should be moved in an off-season trade for a very good, large and experienced D man. The draft lottery could have an effect, because if we pick in the top three we can get a fair sized, highly skilled Top 6 player who can likely step right in.

  • TKB2677

    The Oilers should have never have drafted Yak not so much because he was a flawed player, more flawed than Hall, Nuge, Yak but because he was not what they needed.

    The Oilers for whatever reason and it starts back to the 2009-2010 season decided that dressing a whole crap load of smaller, finesse guys was the way to go. Plus they had a bunch of not overly physical, finesse guys at defense. This continued on. Whether the scouts were in favor of Yak or not, when the Yak draft came up, the last thing the Oilers needed was another smallish, finesse winger. They already had a bunch of not overly physical, smallish fowards in the top 6. They needed some skilled top 6 size and a Dman.

    In my opinion, it was doomed to fail. While all the other teams, especially in the West, balanced out their lines with a combination of skill and size, the Oilers loaded up on on less physical, finesse guys. For every Taresenko a team like the Blues had, they balanced that out with a Backes.
    Not the Oilers. They had Hall, Nuge, Eberle, Yak, Hemsky for awhile, Gagner, for awhile all playing at once. Not one of those guys is a straight line, go to the net, screen the goalie, score goals 5 ft from the paint player. They are all perimeter players, they are all rush players. They will fly up the wing, dazzle you with end to end rushes, beat a guy on a toe drag, pass the puck 5 times for a highlight reel tap in. This will happen 1 or 2 times a game. A toe drag only works so often. When the pass isn’t inches away, it is turned up the ice for an odd man such. When the shot isn’t absolutely perfect and the goalie makes the save and sips out the rebound, there isn’t an Oiler to be found to clean up the garbage. It’s one and done in the offensive zone then back to your end. The other team calmly moves down the ice, fending off the smallish, stick checking Oilers because no one dares lay a body check not only at forward but on defense. A shot is directed towards the goal, the save is made, the rebound comes out and there is a opposing player, driving the net to fire it in the net.

    Final score. Blues (or whoever run the Oilers show) 3, Oilers 1. The Oilers loan goal was a get you out of your seat, eye popping goal, while the the Blues 3 goals were the muscle it in, 2nd and 3rd shot, screened shots from the point, tip ins.

    If you want further evidence, then look no further than Maroon. He’s a big, strong, go to the net, battle in front, physical, straight line player who’s got decent enough skill and hands. He’s scored on every line he’s been on with the Oilers because he’s cleaning up the garbage that all the finesse Oilers create but refuse to go after. He scores goals the way the majority of goals in the NHL are scored these days. 2nd and 3rd chances, going to the net, 5 ft from the paint.

  • I love Yak as a person.. great kid, and we could probably use more of that type here, although he seems close to an outcast with some of the party-crowd here.

    That said though, I think it’s best for both him and the organization to part ways. I would hate to see it too. My heart says keep giving this kid more chance and let him find his way here and turn into a great NHLer.. my brain says that’s probably not going to happen here, for whatever reason.

    If he stays here or moves on elsewhere, I still hope that he has a lot of success. He deserves it. His work ethic does not go unnoticed, even with his teammates (Hall commented on how he gives his best effort whether he’s on top line or 4th line). I just don’t think the organization can afford to let him skate around the ice unstructured while he figures it out. This needs to be another team’s project, in my opinion. But it will pain me to see him go, as he’s near impossible to not like.

    Fantastic person… very raw player.. may never have what it takes to succeed in the NHL.

  • TKB2677

    The thing that gets with with Yak lovers is they immediately cling to the time with McDavid early in the year like their life depended on it.

    Yes he had some success. I believe he had 11 pts but he only had 2 GOALS! This guys is supposed to be a shooter and all you can muster with McDavid is 2 freaking goals??? A lot of Yaks points involved giving McDavid the puck and letting him do all the work. Wow, what great offensive success.

    If Eberle had of been healthy, Yak wouldn’t have played with McDavid at all.

  • CLubhouse

    I went to 6 games this year, Tier 2 fan I believe lol but nothing drives me crazier than Eberle and Halls lack of back check and big minutes. If I want anyone gone its those two they can go be party boys in some other city. Whens the last time either did any community support that Ference didn’t force on them, oh yeah never.

    Trade both of them for a number 1 & 3 RHD keep yak for one more year in a top 6 role if it still doesn’t work deal him then.

  • D'oh-ilers

    Calling Yak a bust at 22 is a stretch. The player certainly deserves his share of criticism, however, the organization hasn’t done him any favors either.

    I’m curious who will get the better return: Yakupov or Drouin. The situations aren’t too far apart, and the value for both players has dropped considerably since they were drafted.

    It’ll be an interesting summer, for sure.

    • NewPants

      Good info in the article. That shows Yak to be a good player and not the busted 1st overall some make him to be.

      If he isn’t being looked at through busted 1st overall projecting glasses….. a serviceable player can be seen.

  • NewPants

    Thank you for this Write up Mr Henderson.

    I agree with your points about Yak. He’s getting better and he’s a great cap hit for a second line winger.

    Yak has a use on any team in the league at 2.5 mill.

    We are not going to be able to replace him with the return we get for him.

    We will see him do better on another team.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    Yak will be successful on another team.

    A proper functioning team will slot him in the Ovechkin position on the PP an he will end up scoring 30 goals.

    He will be a hit machine, and be defensively responsible. A big part of being responsible in your own end is having veteran competent defenseman.

    There are no facts to back up my predictions, other than the fact this is the Oilers.

    Yak City fans will grow more resentment for the team. We living in Yak City can see the potential, the effort, and the heart.

    I would rather have a player who tries too hard every shift than an Eberle who never back checks, only skates hard if there’s a scoring opportunity and is soft as butter.

  • Shaunm

    Good article. I love yak and wish it would work out so he could stay and be in the top 6.

    His results speak for themselves, in a top 6 role he meets or exceeds expectations. In a bottom 6 role he isn’t a player that can drive the play and lead a 3rd or 4th line to glory. No shame in that, the only shame is that the oilers have misused him and punished him at every turn. It’s true that a player should earn minutes and line position but hasn’t he done that by producing when put in a top 6 role? One breakdown and he moves down the lineup? When a guy like Ebs doesn’t back check or has a lazy game he doesn’t move down. Never has.

    Best of luck Yak, I’ll be in a shiny new Yak jersey with a yakcity sign for your first game back in Edmonton…..unless you find a way to stay….one can hope

  • EZ76

    Удачи, братишка Наиль! Ты правильный пацан, я буду скучать по тебе

    Good Luck, Bro Nail! You’re right dude, i will miss you

    Уңышлар, абы Наил! Син шәп егет, мен юксена буенча сиңа

  • Jay (not J)

    Well according to Gregor’s article the door isn’t entirely closed. Based on where he gets used though, it’s hard to believe that they would trust him to replace Eberle next season. Hopefully your article gets read by a good number of the league’s GMs. It’s hard to look at the results and agree with your assessment, but you do sell him well.

    Maybe Yak’s alleged misuse IS a directive from above. Perhaps there’s a worry that a successful Yak would be encouragement for Katz to continue to meddle whereas a failure would be daily evidence of the damage handing control over to an amateur can do. The hockey guys have continued to circle the wagons through the various regimes and the owner’s guy has been made an example of. I don’t buy it myself, but if he catches fire somewhere else I might start to wonder.

  • CDNinATL

    My son won’t be happy if he’s traded, I will say that. My son plays goalie for a single A bantam travel team here in Atlanta. His number is 64 based on Yaks first jersey number in Edmonton.

  • gongshow

    Full agreement, Matt.

    Yak puts up offence similar to what Ebs does when placed with similar line mates. Not exact, but same ballpark. Yak makes $2.5M. Ebs makes $6M.

    Therefore, why not pump and dump Ebs for a 1 or 2D and use this season to teach Yak to play smarter away from the puck and then move him up the batting order next year?

    Much like Stevie Y, Chia still controls the player’s rights and would only move Yak for the right assets. It sounds as though no team wanted to pay what Chia was asking. Why would Chia care if Larionov is asking to talk to other teams? Yak wants to play hockey in a better situation. Playing on McDavid’s wing is definitely a better situation.

    Unlike MacT, Chia never tips his hand. Could Chia be playing 2 card Monty?

  • ifiwasgm

    Of all the 1st picks we’ve had, Yak is the only one who was not allowed to make mistakes.
    Hall could make a thousand mistakes (also had great veteran in Horcof), but Yak had no lifelines and it destroyed his confidence.

    • SSB1963

      How many coaches has Nail had now? And most of them had the same criticism’s of Nail. I believe that he just doesn’t have the Hockey IQ to play in the top six.

  • ifiwasgm

    Yak doesn’t need coaching in my opinion. He needs stability and on-ice leadership (a veteran player to kick his butt, see Derek Roy)(preferably a better VETERAN center than Roy)