With the Edmonton Oilers turning things around, it may be time to part ways with Nail Yakupov.
The Edmonton Oilers have been a consistent basement-dweller in the NHL, but have looked like a new team with the return of Connor McDavid. They have a potent offensive attack and are trying to make a Cinderella-like push for the NHL playoffs. With the team finally coming together, it is becoming more apparent that Nail Yakupov has no role to play moving forward.
Is Yakupov a bust?
Some would say yes, but at just 22 years old one could argue that Yakupov still has time to grow into a much better player. While he has been given plenty of opportunity to succeed, Yakupov has yet to find consistent success in the NHL. He was an absolute stud with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL, and despite missing much of his second season of junior hockey, he was still considered the top NHL prospect in the world.
During the lockout season, Yakupov had a relatively impressive rookie campaign with 17 goals and 14 assists in 48 games. However, in his second year Yakupov was limited to 63 games and scored just 11 goals and 13 assists. Last season, Yakupov had his worst showing yet with just 14 goals and 19 assists in 81 games.
In his defense, Yakupov has shown glimpses of high-end skill but has not found consistency at the NHL level. He was surrounded by young players in his first three seasons and never really showed chemistry with anyone. He was also stuck in a third line role on several occasions over the past three years which forced him to focus on his defensive game. For more reasons than one, Yakupov has been struggling ever since his rookie season and may need a new home to turn things around.
Current vice-chairman of Oilers Entertainment Group Kevin Lowe has openly stood by Yakupov since 2012 and the rest of the organization has done the same. They used all their recent draft picks to formulate a recipe for success and Yakupov was part of those plans. However, with the McDavid era officially underway, there may be new reason to finally move Yakupov out of Edmonton.
To have a better shot against the top teams, the Oilers need to beef up their defense big time. While Yakupov has fallen drastically in terms of trade value, the Oilers could part with early draft picks or secondary players. A first or second round pick coupled with Yakupov could garner some attention prior to the trade deadline. Regardless of the package, the Oilers have very limited assets available for trade and Yakupov is likely the biggest name.
On defense, Andrej Sekera was a great addition but the plummeting Justin Schultz is completely invisible and Darnell Nurse is not ready for big responsibilities. Mark Fayne, Eric Gryba and Brandon Davidson have held their own but some offensive support from the back-end would be the perfect complement to the Oilers potent offense. If Yakupov were to be traded, upgrading the defensive unit should be the first priority.
For Yakupov, going somewhere to start fresh could be the perfect thing. Playing with more veterans to help him both on and off the ice is also a step in the right direction. While some teams many not want to take a chance on the young winger, a team with a lot less to lose may welcome the risk-to-reward ratio. The Los Angeles Kings are one of the most stacked teams in terms of defense and prospects and could use the boost on offense. Whether the Kings or another team, Yakupov may just need to get out of Edmonton to turn his career around.
This season, Yakupov is stuck on the Oilers’ third line and with the recent success of the team, there is even less chance he moves up the depth chart. He does not play on any special team units, but has not earned that opportunity, either. In 31 games this season, Yakupov has a measly four goals and 10 assists with a minus-6 rating. Even though learning the defensive side of the game is important, Yakupov needs time on the top two units and the powerplay to try and produce. Unfortunately, simply based on lack of space and performance, Yakupov is stuck on the Oilers’ bottom six with little chance of moving up.
Maybe it’s time for the Oilers and Yakupov to finally part ways.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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