Nail Yakupov has had a tough sophomore season so far. He’s been scratched on two separate occasions, has finished with a minus-four rating in two of his last four contests and has only found the back of the net once. You can boil Yakupov’s lack of success down to two things: a low shooting percentage and total lack of two-way play.
Offensive output (numbers) fuel players like the former first-overall selection. He is at his best when the red light is flicking on in his favor. That color allows him to become more engaged everywhere else on the ice. The exact opposite it true as well though: when Yakupov isn’t scoring goals, he’s invisible.
That doesn’t have to be the case though. Coach Dallas Eakins has been trying to get that message to click for the enigmatic forward all season long. He spoke to Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun about Yakupov yesterday:
If Yak is going to play with top-six forwards, that means he has to play against top six forwards. And there’s a great responsibility that comes with that.
That is certainly something we’ve focused on off the ice with conversations and video and corrections there.
Ah, yes. The “with great power comes great responsibility” angle.
If Eakins doesn’t think that his message is getting through, tonight he’ll have a unique opportunity to show Yakupov the kind of player he could be instead of telling him.
The coach just needs to point out onto the ice when Pavel Datsyuk is out there and say “watch what he does, do what he does.”
Easier said then done? You bet. If everyone could do what Datsyuk does, then he wouldn’t be so special. Datsukian deke wouldn’t have Google relevancy and there wouldn’t be hours of compilation tapes of No. 13’s defensive play on YouTube. Datsyuk is the embodiment of what Yakupov can’t seem to grasp.
To the youngster, offense and defense are separate entities in the game. He sees hockey almost like one would see football. There’s an offensive side of the puck and a defensive side. Some players are meant to do things in one zone, while others are meant to play in another.
That isn’t how hockey works though. And in watching Datsyuk in person, perhaps Yakupov can realize once and for all that a slick stick lift in the neutral zone will lead to offense. That offense isn’t a stand-alone aspect of the game. Motion flows forward out of the defensive zone toward the offensive zone when teams are clicking.
A big reason that Edmonton isn’t on the rails right now is Yakupov’s lack of understanding when it comes to two-way hockey. He seems to believe that forechecking and backchecking will take away from his offensive game. In Datsyuk, he’ll see first hand that it’s precisely because he doesn’t do those things that he isn’t scoring.
Get out your notepad Nail, and learn from a master.