Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Edmonton Oil and Water. The Yakupov saga

During the 2011-12 season, fans of teams stuck at the bottom of the league during the stretch-run had a great slogan for the drive to the #1 overall draft pick:  "Fail For Nail."

That "Nail" would be Nail Yakupov, consensus #1 overall pick in the 2012 draft.

The Edmonton Oilers kept their streak alive by winning the rights to the first pick in the draft for the third consecutive year. They picked Yakupov.

Yakupov was a good pick. In his rookie season he had 17 goals and 31 points in 48 games. Unfortunately, it hasn't carried over to this season.

Head coach Ralph Krueger was replaced in the off season by former Toronto Marlies bench boss, Dallas Eakins and apparently, it hasn't worked out too well for Yakupov.

This season, in 17 games, Yakupov has a mere two goals and two assists. But the alarming part, especially in Eakins "two-way" oriented system, is his minus-14 plus/minus rating. That was enough for him to get a couple of games as a healthy scratch, diminished powerplay time and a demotion to the bottom-six with some time on the fourth line.

Yakupov should never be confused with Henrik Zetterberg because a two-way game is not his forte'. He's a gamebreaker, a quicker, yet smaller version of Alexander Ovechkin.

Ovechkin, by the way, was stymied in Washington when head coach Dale Hunter, another two-way oriented coach, took over the reigns of the Capitals in November of 2011. Hunter would step down at the end of the season giving way to present coach Adam Oates. Ovechkin was a perennial top-five scorer before Hunter. That season he finished 37th in the league in scoring.

Last year under Oates "The Great 8" took his rightful spot near the top of the league finishing third in scoring. Presently Ovechkin sits sixth in the league with 14 goals and 21 points in 17 games. The Capitals are second in the Metropolitan Division.

With that as a backdrop, it's no wonder that Yakupov's agent, Igor Larionov, is reportedly headed to Edmonton.

According to Craig Custance, via the Edmonton Journal, Larionov wants to discuss how Yakupov is being used.  And, if Edmonton is unhappy with Yakupov, Custance quotes Larionov as saying "We’re willing to make a move. Any team. That happens and that’s part of life.”

Rumors of a disconnect have been swirling around ever since Yakupov was scratched early in the season on October 12. In the four games prior, he was pointless and was a minus-3. Said Eakins of Yakupov's play before he scratched him, "He hasn’t been up to speed. I think he’ll tell you the same thing."

Well, not quite.

Two days later, a frustrated, defiant Yakupov had this to say, "I wasn’t happy about [the scratch] last night. You can say a million words about getting better but coach says I’m not playing, so I’m not playing."

And why was he not playing? Said Eakins, “The kids’ passion is to score and he was just going to take it all on himself to do that. I don’t care how good you are, you can’t produce by yourself in this league. You have to use your linemates."

“He’s young and he has so much to learn about the proper way to play the game," continued Eakins, "once he grasps that, he is going to be dangerous when he steps on the ice. The thing about these guys who have that special gift of being able to put the puck in the net, is that once it starts not going in for them in the first couple of games, it can snowball quickly the other way where they maybe start cheating for offence then maybe looking away from the defensive part of the game."

Apparently Yakupov isn't very happy with Eakins' approach, “I’m going to play my game,” he said. “I’m not going to change but maybe play better without the puck, or forecheck more, but I love playing with the puck. I really don’t like skating all the time, and forechecking, and hitting somebody every shift. I don’t think it’s my game.”

It's no wonder Larionov is headed to Edmonton and Oilers GM Craig MacTavish left the GM meetings in Toronto a little early yesterday. It's oil and water right now.

MacTavish tried to settle things down while in Toronto saying, "I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s a bit of a distraction for us to have to answer to these comments."

And he made the hockey world know that they still liked Yakupov and his future, "“Our feelings about Yak are we like him. I like Yak a lot. I don’t feel any different today than the day that we drafted him. I feel like he’s going to be a great, dynamic scorer in this league.”

Yakupov, for his part, addressed the issue after practice yesterday.

Although he said that he wasn't asking for a trade nor was he bad-mouthing the team and/or city, he remains frustrated with his playing time, ""I know that (Larionov is) coming and we've got to do something because I don't see any trust in me now," said Yakupov. "I'm playing lower and lower minutes.

I just want to play. I don't want to play nine or five minutes. I think I can play more and I can help my teammates to do something to get some points. We need points. I'm 20 years-old and I think that's a pretty important year for me to learn how to play hockey."

Something isn't right in Edmonton with Yakupov, and it would seem as if there's a high probability that he will be moved.

What does it all mean for the Sabres? Probably not too much. Buffalo is presently dealing with their own problems including their 2012 first round pick (12th overall) Mikhail Grigorenko who has struggled to adapt to the NHL.
In a season where the Sabres are in full rebuild mode and dead last in the league, and with pressure mounting on the entire management staff, would they consider Yakupov?

I don't think there's a team in the league who shouldn't inquire about a "great, dynamic scorer."

And if the price was right, why not?

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