When the Edmonton Oilers drafted Nail Yakupov, they had dreams of him putting up some scary numbers from their top-six. They just didn’t think that the numbers would include a minus-10 rating and a shooting percentage below four percent. (That’s not a typo—he’s shooting at 3.7% right now)
Head coach Dallas Eakins seems to have altered his approach with the young sniper drastically. Since scratching him twice in the middle of October, Eakins has suddenly increased Yakupov’s ice time drastically, clearly not protecting him from tough shifts against the opposition’s top lines.
The youngster has played more than 20 minutes in each of the last two games and is a minus-five through those two contests.
Once again, the former No. 1 draft pick’s response hasn’t been what Eakins is looking for. Edmonton’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs last night was a perfect example. Toronto managed to score four goals and the top line featuring Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri just crushed the Oilers.
Guess who was out there for all four goals against.
More frightening is the fact that this is the second time this season Yakupov has finished with a minus-four in a game. This wasn’t a fluke. It’s a trend, and a disturbing one at that. While plus-minus can be a bit misleading at times and is more of a team statistic, in this case it tells the story of a player that refuses to play in all three zones.
Which is unfortunate because the kid could be really, really good.
The line of thinking that says Yakupov is close to going bust is out of line and wickedly premature. This is a bad stretch for Yakupov, sure. It isn’t like this is Tyler Seguin playing third-line minutes on the Boston Bruins though. This is a good player—surrounded by similarly one-dimensional players—that just can’t figure out how to get going in the offensive zone.
That, in turn, has had a negative impact on his overall play.
He’s only 20, so perhaps a touch of slack is in order. Yet at minus-10, maybe another benching is due. At this juncture, what do you do to get Yakupov’s attention? Stick a badger down his hockey pants every time he makes a gaffe in the neutral zone?