Naturally, Nail Yakupov is a polarizing figure. The first overall pick is clearly talented. He was number one on most year end draft lists and for good reason. He hasn’t played anywhere else but here and Sarnia, and, folks, let’s face it; he has been misused.
The Scouting Bureau said this about Yakupov in his draft year:
Nail Yakupov is an extremely elusive hockey player to the fact where comparing him to Detroit Red Wing forward Pavel Datsyuk should gather no qualms. Why is Yakupov so elusive and evasive? First, Yakupov’s strong skating stride delivers quick acceleration and top end speed to swiftly separate himself from defenders. In addition, Nail has the ability to quickly change speed (especially when in high gear) that makes him almost impossible to lineup for the “big hit”. Add in the ability to spin, cut and deke on the fly and Yakupov’s arsenal is fully equipped with skills that gives defensemen nightmares around the league.
Sure, young Yak is accountable for his defensive shortcomings. However, junior hockey provided a foundation for the North American game that only grew his offensive game. His fellow Sting-”ers” did the heavy lifting for him. It could be said they may have hid his true skill level. He also had a skilled playmaker in Alex Galchenyuk.
Regardless, that could be uttered about any type of scoring wunderkind who gets drafted at or near the top. They are often given free reign because the weaker junior players around them have less hockey sense and are unable to stop them. It’s why Sam Gagner scored 118 points in his last year before jumping to the NHL, but was unable to break out similarly in the big leagues.
Yakupov, like Gagner, was rushed in. He really ought to have spent an entire year in Sarnia shaping his game more rather than play the truncated lockout season. He had moved himself and his family to Edmonton, only to watch the league shut down for a time. Instead of the Oilers using that first year to develop him, he was injected into a line up that sorely needed more elite talent.
After last year, many are questioning whether Yakupov has elite skill. I think he does. In his debut season, Ralph Krueger often put Yakupov on the third line, playing with guys like Eric Belanger and Shawn Horcoff. He thrived when given the opportunity, but then he would get inexplicably demoted.
Under Dallas Eakins, Yakupov needed to learn a new system from a new coach with a roster around him that would get a massive makeover by season’s end. Not only that, Eakins forced the swarm defence, confusing a young player who once again found himself playing with the worst players on the team.
i have confidence in Yak. With Teddy Purcell, Benoit Pouliot and Leon Draisaitl on th way, that gives Yakupov far better linemates, ones who can create some room for his scoring ability to come through. He will succeed, but we may not see the fruit on the vine until the player mix in Edmonton is JUST right.