It is something that always surfaces around the league anytime a rookie has a stellar first year. The dreaded sophomore slump, if you believe in that kind of thing. Nail Yakupov of the Edmonton Oilers is no different given his extraordinary campaign last season that saw him pot 17 goals in an abbreviated schedule and now he has yet to bulge the twine in his second year. Is he another victim of the sophomore slump?
Again, only if you believe in it then I guess he is. Or is it just a case of adjusting to a new coach’s system who hasn’t utilized the Russian sniper to same degree he was used to last season and pressing too much to get that first goal?
To start the season Dallas Eakins was using Yakupov sparingly it seemed, trolling him on the third line and averaging over fourteen minutes of ice-time a night. Lately that’s increased to over fifteen minutes and last night he was just over nineteen minutes of ice but again held without a goal. Putting him on the top line to skate along side Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will help and the scoring chances are already presenting itself. Now it’s just a matter of getting that monkey of his back.
So why is he ten games into the season and without a goal? He has a shot on goal in every game he’s played in and when comparing it to his first ten games last season,he’s actually ahead of his current pace with 21 shots versus 18. The obvious difference being that he had five goals last season at this time.
But a promising reminder is that Yakupov went a long stretch last season without scoring a goal; sixteen games to be exact. It was a drought that lasted five weeks. Promising in the fact that he eventually broke out of it and scored 11 goals in 14 games to finish the year but still concerning that he did go well over a month without lighting the red lamp.
Eberle has already taken charge of trying to help Yakupov break his frustrating slump along with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. With Taylor Hall on the shelf, Yakupov could see ample playing time on the top line but he has to start producing. His play has improved and while he continues to shoot the puck, he has to find better shooting lanes and create a hole that can leave him alone with a clear shot on goal. Shooting through traffic can be effective but his release is so quick that he doesn’t need a screened goalie to beat him.
The power play, which is like a swear word around Oil Country right now given it’s lack of production, is another area where Yakupov could shine. Throwing him to the off-wing to set up his laser like cannon could help both the frustrated 20-year old as well as breath some much needed life into the Oilers man advantage.
He will score plenty of goals this year, it’s just a matter of time. When he gets the first one they’ll come in bunches, it’s just the way it typically goes with pure goal scorers when they’re struggling. For now, a sophomore slump appears evident but just wait until he gets that first one and then watch him dispel the myth. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take too much longer.