Edmonton - July 24, 2014 - The worries in Edmonton over Nail Yakupov emerged after a disappointing sophomore season by the “enigmatic” young Russian player and although they have died down due to the worries of the huge hole in the second line center slot, I wanted to share my thoughts because Yak popped back up in the social media world and it got me thinking.
Enigmatic is a term given out by old-school NHL media types that mistake enthusiasm and love for the game by European players as being spoiled or having a poor attitude or not respecting the traditions of the game that were instilled when respect and no celebrating were a thing. It’s short sighted, and quite frankly it takes the fun out of the NHL year after year. Young skilled players coming into the game nowadays are more excitable and show more emotion, and there is nothing wrong with that. The fans in Edmonton will tell you that the Yak slide was one of the most exciting moments of that lockout shortened season, the old-school media types call it cocky or disrespectful to the game. What if it was a young Nathan MacKinnon celebrating the way Yakupov did in his rookie year when he scored a particularily exciting goal? I can’t imagine hearing a whisper about the “enigmatic” Canadian boy, but that’s unfortunately the reality we live in and a discussion I am not here to make.
Back to Yak and his sophomore slump, I was curious about just how “poor” his sophomore season was in comparison to other recent number one overalls. Because in my opinion worrying about Yakupov before he has played 150 NHL games seems foolisht, especially considering his stellar Rookie campaign. The players I will look at in comparison are Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares and Gabriel Landeskog. I am not considering Nuge here simply because I don’t want to flood this outlook with Oilers players (so many number one overalls...sigh).
The information for Corsi isn’t available for all these players on extraskater.com (Tavares specifically) for their rookie seasons and neither is Quality of Competition (QoC) or Quality of Teammates (QoT). Therefore for Rookie seasons I am going to compare points/GP, and then I will look at the sophomore season of each player and bring in Corsi, Corsi Rel, QoC, and QoT.
The points/GP breaks down as follows; Tavares (0.66), Hall (0.65), Yak (0.65), Landy (0.63) and Seguin (0.30). So obviously these are all similar rookie campaigns in this regard, Seguin has a significantly lower points/GP but in his defense he was playing on a stacked Boston team, which means he was likely getting less powerplay and lower quality of teammates as the Bruins weren’t reliant on him to put up points as a rookie. Yak is right in the mix with the other three players though, just great rookie seasons from the top four guys, although it was a lockout shortened season so it is unknown whether he would have taken off with the missing 34 games or floundered in them.
In their sophomore seasons we start to see some separation amongst the group:
Looking at this table we can see clearly that Hall, Tavares and Seguin took off, with Seguin making the largest jump from his rookie campaign. This jump by Seguin is most certainly due to increased playing time (his TOI/60 jumped from 12.1 to 16.7), increased powerplay time (his PPTOI% jumped from 24.8% to 48.6%) and his Quality of teammates (which jumped from 28.8% to 31.4%). Opportunity was given to Seguin and he took complete advantage of it.
Hall and Tavares progressed basically as you could have expected based on draft pedigree and solid rookie seasons, and Landeskog seems to have been dealing with an injury which led to a slight decline in production combined with playing on a pretty terrible Avalanche team. Yakupov had the greatest drop off and as a result has Edmonton media and fans alike calling Yakupov a potential flop already. This is an outrageous statement to make at this point of his career even with his drop-off in production.
Yakupov’s drop off in production could be a factor of many different things; he had a new Head Coach in Dallas Eakins who seemingly employed a higher merit system in terms of ice time and powerplay time (at least in relation to Yakupov); Eakins was also heavy on teaching Yakupov the finer aspects of the game (which is great, and if Yak can make some adjustments will pay off in spades down the line) but this was not a focus from Kreuger in the lockout shortened season, this meant Yakupov was spending more time trying to improve his play defensively and more than likely lost some focus and confidence on the offensive side of the puck. Every error Yakupov made seemed to get him stapled to the bench, and from all reports I've heard/read Yakupov is a player that lives and dies on confidence and punishing him for every error likely resulted in a huge loss of confidence. His PPTOI% dropped from 43.2% to 38.5%, this is not a significant drop by any means, but we do know the Oilers struggled all season long on the powerplay, whether this is the players on the ice fault (unlikely based on years previous success and skill available to employ) or the systems employed by the coaching staff (far more likely), either way Yakupov struggled to produce with the man-advantage and as a result his P/GP took a hit.
This upcoming season is a make or break year for Yakupov as we all well know. He must make some significant strides defensively and offensively and he needs to get back to that offensive threat we witnessed in his rookie season. The hope is with some changes to the coaching staff surrounding Eakins that the message may get through to Yakupov coming from fresh voices. On top of this, the powerplay can be expected to have somewhat of a bounce back year with new coaches bringing fresh ideas to on-ice formations, which should benefit Yakupov. Finally an improved roster surrounding Yakupov should be very beneficial to his overall play. As it sits right now Yakupov is likely to lineup on a soft minute’s line with Pouliot and Leon the Rookie, and while it’s not ideal having Leon as a center in the NHL it is unfortunately a reality at this point in time. One thing is for sure, it will mean sheltered minutes and great zone starts for Yak and Leon, which combined with Pouliots very impressive puck possession history should result in more offensive opportunities for Yakupov to unleash his deadly shot on net.
Tying it All Together
I think it is reasonable to expect Yakupov to have a bounce back year. The sophomore slump seems to have hit our boy hard, but there were extenuating circumstances that no doubt contributed to his decline in play and production (maybe even a little overconfidence coming off his great finish in 2012-13). With a fresh season upon us, some new voices behind the bench, some new teammates and hopefully an improved powerplay, the only thing holding Yakupov back from a bounce back season is Yakupov himself. Maybe I am an optimist, but I will bet on the “enigmatic” young Russian to come into the 2014-15 season mentally prepared, enthusiastic and hungry to have a significant impact while making some significant strides in all areas of his game.
This article uses information from extraskater.com