When the Edmonton Oilers drafted Nail Yakupov first overall in 2012, the belief was they were getting the final piece to the incredible offensive juggernaut they seemed like they were trying to build.
Two seasons into his career, however, the offensive numbers aren’t there and, at times, Yakupov has been more detrimental to the team’s efforts than anything. For the sake of both parties, it might be time for the Oilers and Yakupov to go their separate ways.
It’s no secret that the Oilers have struggled defensively and in goal, so there’s a necessity to, in some way, get help on the defensive side of the puck. Edmonton’s front office did great work to bring in defenseman Mark Fayne and winger Benoit Pouliot, both great possession players, but two players won’t change the direction of an organization overnight.
That’s why in order to move forward, it might be in Edmonton’s best interest to move Yakupov. Only 21, Yakupov is still young enough that his potential outweighs many of his shortcomings, and when your lineup already boasts Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Taylor Hall, there’s plenty of offense to go around. More than anything, what Edmonton needs to start building is the supporting cast.
As it stands, Yakupov hasn’t been anywhere near the effective player the Oilers had been hoping for. His rookie season was fantastic, no doubt, but since his first campaign he’s been unable to piece it all together. Look no further than his zone starts when compared to his possession numbers.
In 2013-14, his sophomore campaign, Yakupov started over 40 percent of his 5-on-5 shifts in the offensive zone. However, his Corsi For percentage sat at 44.8 percent, far from where you’d expect from a player that should be a star. Statistically speaking, it was a down year for the Russian winger, and to this point in 2014-15, it’s going to be another subpar year.
It’s not Yakupov’s 28-point pace that’s concerning – even though that would still be less than his rookie total – it’s that he’s continuing to get dominated possession-wise. At 43 percent, Yakupov isn’t benefitting from an even higher percentage of offensive zone faceoffs in 2014-15.
While there’s reason to be concerned for the Oilers, there has to be some thought put into Yakupov’s future, too. For whatever reason, Edmonton is not the fit for him at this point in his career. Whether it has spawned from a lack of ice time – Yakupov gets little more than 14 minutes a night – or a continual losing culture, he’s better than his stat lines reads.
If his game continues to slide, it’s going to do nothing to help his future – or his future value. That’s why now is as good a time as any to ship Yakupov out.
The exchange for Yakupov could bring in a host of talent, too. Moving a first overall talent wouldn’t scare off any potential suitors, but rather, serve to show that Edmonton knows he’s got trade value and could bring them the return they need to help move the Oilers forward. While a top-flight defenseman might not be in the conversation, a second-pairing player along with a couple of picks isn’t out of the question. The Oilers don’t need a full rebuild; they just need to start picking up the complimentary pieces.
Yakupov isn’t forcing the Oilers hand, but eventually they’re going to have to make a decision. It’s clear many of the players don’t want the axe to fall on coach Dallas Eakins, and if management feels the same, the next option is to move someone out. There’s never any reason to make a panic trade, but shipping out Yakupov would be far from.
While the Oilers are coming off of six straight losses and a 7-1 blowout at the hands of the Blackhawks, there have been positives in Edmonton this season. But if the Oilers are going to take any step forward, someone has to go to get some help on the backend. And that’s why it might be time for Yakupov and the Oilers to split.