Learning to play well without the puck will help Nail Yakupov
's prospects. (Andy Devlin/Getty Images)
By Allan Muir
Edmonton Oilers coach Dallas Eakins isn't the only hockey authority who's grown tired of Nail Yakupov's selfish play.
Igor Kravchuk, who split 12 NHL seasons among six different teams, is in North America scouting NHL talent for Russia's Olympic team. And like Eakins, he's not happy with the first-overall pick of the 2012 draft.
Unlike Eakins, though, he's under no pressure to sugarcoat his take.
"He has to make [up] his mind," Kravchuk said this morning on Team 1200 radio in Ottawa. "If he's not going to change his game, then he has no future."
Please. Go on.
"Obviously, from what I see, his team game is really, really poor. He tries to do a lot of things by himself and he has absolutely no defense and that's what really concerns [me] as a scout. But if he's going to listen to what the coach says, if he's going to change his game, then he's got a future."
Now, it's fair to speculate that Kravchuk may have ulterior motives behind his decision to blast Yakupov like this. He and Eakins were teammates on the 1995-96 St. Louis Blues and the 2000-01 Calgary Flames. Just spitballin' here, but there's a chance that Kravchuk may be putting this out there to help get the point across to the kid in a way his old buddy couldn't.
But anyone who's watched Yakupov play this season realizes this could be a totally straight assessment. He's looked lost without the puck and is guilty of trying to do too much individually when he has it. Eakins hoped to get his attention by benching him for a pair of recent games. Instead, a petulant Yakupov said, "I don’t really like playing without the puck, skate all the time and do forecheck and hit somebody every shift — I don’t think it’s my game."
He needs to change his approach, and if a two-game stay in Le Chateau Bow-Wow doesn't wake him up, then maybe yanking his dreams of playing in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games out from under him will do the trick.
Going by Kravchuk's comments, Yakupov will have a couple of weeks of free time in February to figure it out.