Entering this season the expectations were high for Russian sensation and Oilers sniper Nail Yakupov. Coming off a rookie campaign that saw him pot 17-goals in an abbreviated season had everyone who cheers for the copper and blue buzzing with excitement about what the former first overall draft pick could do in his second season and first, full 82-game schedule.
But so far Yakupov is struggling, failing to record a point let alone a goal through his first four games of the year and at times “looks lost” in his own end. Now there is talk of making him a healthy scratch, possibly on Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs when the Oilers kick-off their east coast swing. A move that would provide little value to the Oilers and one that is not the answer to this team’s early season woes.
Sure, the youngster has yet to bulge the twine but every time he has the puck in the offensive zone, he’s either creating a scoring chance by using his slick hands, blazzing speed or using his cannon of a shot and thundering the puck towards the net. It never hurts to shoot the puck, especially when you’re struggling to score.
Furthermore, how does removing the offensive threat that is Yakupov make this team better? Sure Jesse Joensuu is a nice addition to the Oilers lineup and brings grit and size to an otherwise soft and small group of forwards. Replacing Joensuu for Yakupov is not the roster move that needs to be made.
Rather how about taking Ryan Smyth out or even Mike Brown for that matter. Luke Gazdic has done the job as enforcer since he was acquired on waivers and Brown is left watching in envy, wishing he could find a dance partner.
Smyth has done little to contribute through the three games that he’s dressed and need I remind you that the lone Oilers victory came when the veteran was in the press box.
Head coach Dallas Eakins has used Yakupov sparingly to start the year and most recently dropped his ice-time to a season low 13:21 against the Canadiens on Thursday.
When asked about the play of Yakupov, Eakins refrained from ripping his player to the media, choosing his words carefully, courtesy of the Edmonton Journal.
"“he was out of sorts all night.”"
Furthermore, Jim Matheson of the Journal criticized Yakupov for his selfish play, stating he’s trying to beat three guys in a league where you have to play give and go hockey. He’s trying to do too much and it could be based around being position on the third line.
Confidence is everything for a hockey player, especially a young one and last year we saw Yakupov flourish when given the opportunity to play with top-end talent.
This team isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders right now either so rather than scratch a pure goal scorer, why not shuffle the lines a little and provide him with some new linemates; ones that play a similar give and go style. Moving Ales Hemsky to play with Boyd Gordon and Jesse Joensuu makes sense given the natural ability Hemmer brings, an attribute that can make his third line linemates better. Yakupov doesn’t play that style of game and won’t flourish in that role like Hemsky can.
Besides, isn’t it the coaches job to pull him aside and stress the importance of using your linemates and not try and beat the opposing team by yourself? Or is putting him in the press box the right decision, hoping that the point is made and that he’ll bounce back with a burr in his saddle and a point to prove?
In my opinion, this Oilers team needs all the talent in the lineup that they can possibly throw at a team like the Leafs and that includes Nail Yakupov. If his struggles continue then maybe look at other alternatives such as a healthy scratch. But for right now, he brings more value to the team than some of the other options and eventually he’ll start scoring. Let’s hope that starts Saturday.