The former 2012 first round pick of the Edmonton Oilers is beginning to become a distraction for their organization. Nail Yakupov had an electric rookie season, posting 17 goals and 31 points in the shortened 2012-2013 season. He has had a disappointing sophomore effort to say the least. He has just four points in 17 games and has accumulated a league high -14 plus/minus rating. Yakupov is also frustrated about his limited time on the ice. He is averaging just around 15 minutes of ice time per game. The Edmonton Journal released a report through the first 17 games of the season and showed Yakupov contributing -0.6 goals per game for every 15 minutes of ice time. Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins is old school in his approach to the talented 20 year old. Eakins knows that Yakupov is a dynamic and talented young player, however he also knows that to be successful in this league that a player needs to be a two-way threat. Yakupov's effort in his own end is lacking and it is a major detriment to Eakins who is trying to get rid of that sort of mindset in the Oilers locker room. Yakupov has admitted that he does not enjoy the physical aspect of the NHL and in his play, he is barely ever back checking. A player can be as talented as Gretzky but if they are not putting out 100% effort on both end of the ice then they are not going to succeed in the NHL. Eakins has made it clear that ice time is earned and Yakupov's agent Igor Larionov has made it clear to the Oilers organization that he would be open to a trade for his client. The Oilers are in a bad situation. They are off to one of their worst starts in franchise history and now they have a whining young star who doesn't want to participate fully for the team.
Edmonton has two options. They can either sit on Yakupov and continue to try to let him develop or they can trade him. We'll explore both options in this article.
The first option is the safest for Edmonton. They liked what they saw in Yakupov enough to draft him as the first overall pick in 2012. They also gave him plenty of ice time in his freshman season under a different head coach and they saw him absolutely thrive. Yakupov has the potential to be an elite NHL player. The question is will the Oilers allow him to reach his potential and does he have the will power to meet his potential. The second part probably has the most doubt. Yakupov clearly has no desire to be a force in the NHL. Through the first quarter of this season, we have witnessed him be a determinant to his team in their own end. There have been many times watching the Oilers this year where he is just standing around while the puck crosses his own goal line. Dallas Eakins is trying to instill a hard working mentality into a talented team of young stars. Most of the Oilers lineup is made up of high end draft picks and getting those guys to work as one single unit has been Eakins biggest challenge. Yakupov has obviously not helped his cause and therefore has been limited ice time. The antics that Yakupov and his agent have engaged in this season have been immature and not good for his future. The relationship between Yakupov and the Oilers has seemed to sour quickly this season. However, Yakupov could easily strap into his work boots and acquire a yes sir mentality. That would go far for him and his future right now.
The second option is quite tempting, especially for a struggling Oilers club. Yakupov is not going to be the Oilers savior this season and likely will just be another cog in the system moving forward. He will probably be traded eventually due to his work ethic. Yakupov's stock is still high though as many people are still latched onto his stellar rookie campaign. Yakupov could be valuable for the right team. He is arguably worth at least another first round draft pick although it might not be a top ten. The Oilers need some serious help on the defensive side of the puck and gaining a draft pick to get an NHL ready defenseman could be an option for the Oilers. They could also bundle Ales Hemsky and Yakupov for a mildly elite player. There is not that much value on the market for defensive players nearing free agency right now. The Oilers hopefully answered their goaltending issues with the signing of Ilya Bryzgalov. There are two defensive prospects in the top ten of the 2014 draft including Aaron Ekblad and Hayden Fluery. The Oilers will probably already have a high end first round draft pick due to their current record. We can all hope that they get some defensive help from the upcoming draft. It becomes difficult to see the Oilers moving Yakupov in the near future. There is not much value right now for defenseman with expiring contracts. The Oilers could probably get another first round draft pick for Yakupov but that proposition is getting more unlikely by each minus rating that he receives.
The most likely scenario is that the Oilers wait on Yakupov's development and we agree that is probably the correct approach at this point in time. Yakupov has every skill he needs to be successful in the NHL. Dallas Eakins is just giving him some tough love which is most likely desperately needed. Hopefully Eakins can turn Yakupov around as well as the Oilers season.