Edmonton Oilers: Yakupov Needs to Prove Himself, By Himself

Edmonton Oilers winger Nail Yakupov hasn’t exactly been able to live up to the expectations put on his shoulders at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Automatically, the first-overall pick was expected to turn around the Oilers franchise, and ever since then, he has struggled to score and properly develop into the elite NHL winger he was predicted to become.

However, something changed when Connor McDavid was added to the roster. When both of them were finally put on a line together, intense chemistry took over, and the two were unstoppable in their short trial together. After a short time together, both players fell victim to injury, and McDavid would return to play with Jordan Eberle.

With the new season around the corner, there are many questions building up to the team’s

Bob Stauffer brought up a strong point arguing against the desired reunification of Yakupov and McDavid.

Because both McDavid and Yakupov are healthy, many believe that the two should be reunited on the first line, with Milan Lucic joining them down the left side. However, considering McDavid’s strong chemistry with Eberle, rating of players down the right side and the fact that Yakupov has yet to prove himself worthy of a first-line spot, the 22-year-old needs to prove himself, by himself.

Sure, it is obvious that he performs well with McDavid. In order to play with a player like McDavid, you need to possess great speed, a similar thought process and stick-handling ability. Yakupov has those factors in his play, and that makes these two a strong combination.

There is a big difference between these two players. Without each other, they fare differently: because of McDavid’s ability, he manages to keep consistency in his play and continue to produce, no matter who he is playing with. Yakupov, on the other hand, falls apart, and his play suffers.

It’s evident in his stats. McDavid and Yakupov have not played together since November, and though McDavid was gone for three months, Yakupov’s numbers suffered greatly. How is it fair that Yakupov should slot in on the first line when he is the only beneficiary?

Yakupov should not take the spot away from another deserving player because it better helps his stats; the Oilers need to play the player that will best produce, and according to the numbers, that man is Jordan Eberle.

While Yakupov and Eberle put up similar GF/60 with McDavid, Yakupov’s time with McDavid was cut short, and consistency can’t be proven. When you look at expected goals for, Eberle and McDavid are predicted to put up more points. Not to mention, when it comes to Corsi and puck possession, it was Yakupov and McDavid that performed worse.

Edmonton has also acquired great depth on the right side, acquiring Kris Versteeg and up-and-coming Jesse Puljujarvi. This is a reason for excitement and experimentation, and one of these players could end up stealing the spot next to him. Their potential will never be discovered if the Oilers don’t try different players, meaning that if Yakupov is put with McDavid, they could be missing out on an even greater combination.

Saying that Yakupov needs to play with another player to make him better is analogous to saying a player cut the NHL draft because of his linemates.

The only way that he should move up in the lineup is if he proves he should. Saying that Yakupov needs to play with another player to make him better is analogous to saying a player cut the NHL draft because of his linemates. Fighting for a higher spot in the lineup is what will make Yakupov a better player (not being automatically promoted). In the end, Yakupov is not a better player because of someone else; he can only improve if he puts in the work on his own.