While the Edmonton Oilers fell in a shootout to the Winnipeg Jets on Monday night to close out their season-high six game road trip on a bit of a sour note, Nail Yakupov continued his recent resurgence with a two goal night. The young Russian looks to have finally righted the ship after struggling badly under the guidance of one Dallas Eakins during what was a season and half the former first overall pick would love to forget.
Edmonton - February 17, 2015 - While the Dallas Eakins Era did not last very long, suggesting the former Toronto Marlies head coach was the main reason the Edmonton Oilers struggled to the degree they did during his one hundred and twelve games behind the bench would be more than a bit of stretch.
Now does that mean the forty-seven year old had little to do with his team posting a disastrous 36-62-14 mark during his first kick at the can at being an NHL coach? Hardly but the rosters he was given to work with during his two seasons in charge were as flawed as any in the league and that is on no one other than Craig MacTavish.
With that said, when it comes to Nail Yakupov, it has now become painfully obvious that the regression we have seen in the former first overall pick’s game was not all on the player. After finishing his rookie season on one heck of a run under the tutelage of Ralph Krueger, the youngster was downright dreadful under Eakins and much of that can be attributed to how he was handled by the first year coach.
When you take a look at his so-called boxcar numbers, there is no question when the drop-off in production occurred. Under Krueger, the Russian sniper scored seventeen times and collected thirty-one points in forty-eight games during the lockout shortened 2013 season. Whether you are one who believes that plus/minus is stat worth looking at or one that is completely useless, his -4 rating was very respectable…though the fact he was a +6 over Edmonton’s final three games made that number look far better than it likely was.
At the time of Eakins’ dismissal, Yakupov had dressed for a total of ninety-four games under his second head coach and essentially matched his production under Krueger. Problem being, he needed an extra forty-six games to reach those totals and saw his plus/minus balloon to an absolutely ridiculous -46 over that time period. .
Add to that the fact the kid went from being a guy who played with a ton of energy every time he hit the ice, to a player who looked completely lost on an almost nightly basis and you have yourself one heck of a big problem. Not surprisingly the youngster had zero confidence and the situation looked to be getting worse with each and every passing day. It was so bad that most people were already starting to write the former Sarnia Sting winger off as a” bust” before even playing 150 games at the National Hockey League level.
Isn’t it funny how things can change in span of a couple months?
After scoring a pair of goals in last night’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets, Yakupov not only finds himself in the midst of s five game point streak but also playing arguably the finest hockey of his young career. Could it just be a coincidence that his play started to improve after Todd Nelson took over behind the bench? In my mind, it has less to do with who is currently behind the bench and much more to do with who is no longer running it.
The addition of Derek Roy has unquestionably helped the kid find his game but the single biggest factor in his turnaround can be attributed to the removal of Eakins as the Oilers head coach. Instead of simply accepting the player for what he was and trying to make him into a better pro, the Eakins-MacT duo decided to try and change the player into something he wasn’t and it blew up in their faces.
For a season and half, all we heard out of the head coach and general manager was the need to get these players to “play the game the right way”. While that is all well and good, neither of them was sharp enough to recognize the effect such an approach was having on the vast majority of their young players. In the grand scheme of things, the “core pieces” on this roster still have a lot to learn but expecting them to approach the game the way a Boyd Gordon or Matt Hendricks does, was and still is completely asinine.
A good coach will recognize a player for what he is and try to put him in situations where he can be successful. With a player like Yakupov, there was always going to be growing pains and instead of allowing him to work his way through them, Eakins decided to wield the hammer and staple him to the bench whenever he made a costly mistake. So much for learning from your mistakes.
To his credit, Nelson has taken the complete opposite approach and it is starting to pay dividends. Ironically enough, in the month that followed Eakins’ firing, Yakpov was as unproductive as he has ever been. Outside of a two point night against the Chicago Blackhawks on January 9th, the kid had one assist and a rather horrifying -11 beside his name over a fourteen game stretch.
From an actual numbers standpoint, Yakupov’s production has essentially been identical under both coaches but anyone who watches this team play on a regular basis can see the difference. Prior to Eakins’ dismissal, Yakupov had four goals and eight points in thirty-one games, with -13 plus/minus rating. In the twenty-seven games that have followed, he has put together the following boxcar numbers…4G, 7A, 11 Pts, -14.
Again, on the surface they look almost identical but one thing to keep in mind, the change in Yakupov’s game did not occur the very moment Nelson took over behind the bench. Things started to turn when his coach decided to use him in a shootout against the Florida Panthers on January 17th and proceeded to walk away with a shootout winner against Roberto Luongo and give his team their first win on the road since November 9th, 2014.
Since then, the young man has produced eight points in twelve games and collected points in seven of those games. Yes having a guy like Roy on his line has helped but it is not as if the veteran centre has been lights out as of late. During the very same twelve game stretch in which Yakupov has rediscovered his scoring touch, the thirty-one year old has just four points but has managed to chip in with three goals.
After a year and half of looking nothing like the player the Edmonton Oilers hoped they were getting when they decided to use the first overall pick of the 2012 Entry Draft on selecting him, it looks as though Nail Yakupov appears to finally be back on track towards becoming a consistent point producer at the National Hockey League level. Hopefully the organization will now accept the kid for what he is and use that to their advantage, instead of focusing on trying to turn him into something he is not.
Rob Soria is the Edmonton Oilers' correspondent for OurHometown.ca. Rob was born and raised in Edmonton and is the author of the Edmonton Oilers blog - OilDrop.ca. He has been a dedicated follower of the game and its history for years but his focus remains on his hometown Edmonton Oilers. If you have questions or wish to contact Rob, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org