It’s hard not to be a fan of Nail Yakupov. He’s young, talented and has an excitement for the game that’s easy to support.
And what I think really expedited and really amplified the support for Yakupov was the unfair treatment he received very early in his NHL career. Around the World Juniors tournament, Canadian writers were quick to critique Yakupov for not being accessible, openly questioning his character and professionalism. On top of that, there was plenty of speculation on draft day that the Oilers’ scouts didn’t want Yakupov. So fans had a player in front of them that wasn’t liked by Edmonton based sports writers AND he wasn’t wanted by the Oilers. How could you not love Yakupov at this point?!
Unfortunately, over the past four years, Yakupov hasn’t produced at an acceptable level. He has never put up a good level of point production at even-strength, with the Oilers often doing better possession-wise when Yakupov is on the bench (Source: War on Ice)
The other problem for Yakupov has been his performance on the powerplay. Looking at just the team’s generation of unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick For/60), which is a good predictor of powerplay success, we see that when Yakupov has been on the ice, he’s typically been either near or below the overall team average. (Source: Hockey Analysis). This just isn’t good enough for someone that has offensive ability.
We also know that the Oilers never really surrounded Yakupov, or any of their prospects for that matter, with reliable, experienced players who could provide rookies with on-ice guidance and mentorship. Since joining the league, Yakupov’s five most common centermen at 5v5 have been Sam Gagner (596:14), Derek Roy (534:15), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (426:05), Mark Arcobello (296.34) and Mark Letestu (215:51). (Source: Hockey Analysis).
I also compiled a a table containing all of the line combinations Yakupov has been a part of for more than 60 minutes at 5v5 since his rookie season. (Source: Corsica Hockey)
If you’re interested, I dug into these line combinations a bit more over at The Copper & Blue.
Couple other things:
I find it pretty amusing that the voting results among the Oilers scouts has been made public. You always have to take a grain of salt with this type of journalism. But I’d be interested in seeing what the results were among the Oilers staff when it came to selecting Mitch Moroz at 32nd overall in the same draft as Yakupov. While we’re at it, why not dig into the Oilers scouting staff’s Taylor vs Tyler vote? Maybe when the information will sell papers, we’ll get access to it.
And let’s not kid ourselves: Yakupov was viewed as a number one pick by hockey scouts and insiders. From Bob McKenzie in June 2012:
..Yakupov has been the more or less undisputed top prospect this year from wire to wire, ranked No. 1 in TSN’s pre-season (mid-September), mid-season, (late January), draft lottery (early April) and final (late May) rankings.
Of the 10 scouts surveyed by TSN for its final rankings, eight pegged Yakupov as the top prospect. Everett Silvertip defenceman Ryan Murrayand Yakupov’s linemate, centre Alexander Galchenyuk, were the only other prospects to get a No. 1 ranking. Each had one.
There’s going to be a lot of crap written about Yakupov over the next few weeks and into the summer and probably well after Yakupov is traded away. The key thing to remember is it’s going to be the same group of Edmonton based writers who chase page clicks and rely on sensationalistic journalism to draw readers. I think we’re lucky to have some very good writers that cover the Oilers, but we have to take some of the crap content at times.
We can’t overlook the fact that Yakupov has worked extremely hard to make it to this point. It’s unfortunate that the Oilers didn’t provide the right environment for him or even considered returning him to junior or loaning him to the KHL knowing full well that he was a one dimensional player on draft day. Instead, we’re left with a cautionary tale (the Oilers have become masters at these) about the importance of development and setting realistic expectations for prospects. It’s my hope that Yakupov finds a new home this summer, is given some quality linemates and coaching, and has reasonable, recalibrated expectations placed upon him.