— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 14, 2013
He’s just a kid. Then again, he’s a 1st overall pick for a franchise that is ready to start winning now. Nail Yakupov of the Edmonton Oilers is becoming rookie head coach Dallas Eakins’ odd man out in the lineup. When a player is healthy scratched once, like Yak was last Saturday, it could be perceived as a wakeup call. Sit him twice, there is more to it – the player is not deserved of a spot in the starting lineup in the eyes of the head coach.
Yakupov is in the baby stages of his NHL career. He’s certainly not the first 20 year old kid to get press box time in the National Hockey League. He is, however, a 1st overall pick in a league where number 1’s usually step in and contribute right away.
Through four games this season, Yakupov has posted 0 points, and a +/- rating of (-3). Compared to the 2013 1st overall pick Nathan MacKinnon, the Oilers young scoring winger looks second rate, thus far, although it’s still early in the season. MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche has 1 goal and 5 assists in 5 total NHL games. And it ain’t fluky – watch him play. He’s explosive in skill and strong on his feet. If you didn’t know, you would never guess he’s only 18 years old by watching the Avs future franchise player.
The high end on display by MacKinnon is exactly what NHL clubs expect from 1st overall picks, and the Oilers haven’t seen that out of Yakupov yet this season.
In 2012-13 the Russian sniper was streaky, but his totals were solid considering his age and situation. He finished the campaign with a very impressive 17 lamp lighters. The kid knows how to score goals.
Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins is more experienced coaching young players in the AHL than he is coaching superstars at the NHL level. Thus, he seems the right man for the job to develop the Oilers’ youth while he also vies for wins and a playoff birth. Sitting Yakupov is likely a teaching method, as well as, an attempt to field a lineup capable of winning.
If Yakupov’s major contributions to the team are offence, he’s somewhat redundant because the Oilers have no issues scoring goals. They have blasted home 17 tallies in only 5 games, ranking them 6th in the NHL. Yet, their record of 1-3-1 is bottom feeder.
Good NHL teams are built on structure, not strictly offence. If Yak can’t cut it on the Oilers top two lines, he is not suited at all to play a defensive role on deeper lines. A problem one could have seen coming when the Oilers decided to utilize their 3rd straight 1st overall pick on another forward, in spite of already possessing the rights to several talented young offensive players.
Yakupov has shown signs of elite NHL talent. He’ll get back in the lineup, probably with a fire lit within him to prove his coach wrong. The entertaining winger will earn the chance to redeem himself, at which point, he’ll need to be amazing, or this could be a long season for Nail Yakupov. Finding a place for Yakupov to fit in will be one of Dallas Eakins’ toughest challenges this season.