Great Yakspectations

Nail Yakupov sure is a polarizing player, isn’t he?

Some feel Yakupov is still going to be a terrific young 1OV talent, finally released from the shackles of rookie coaching, free to emerge and surge.

Other’s believe he’s already a failure, an(other) indictment of Oiler management incompetence or of the young man himself, an enigmatic Russian wrapped in a Tatar mystery meat.


Even the numbers are confused

For the downsiders, you can point to two years of fairly poor production as incontrovertible confirmation of the failure story.

The upsiders can point to the fact that Yak led the Oilers in goal scoring his rookie year, and his game also improved by leaps and bounds once the “Eakins shackles” were removed, as incontrovertible proof of his potential.


Personally, I’m an unabashed fan of Nail Yakupov.  I like his swashbuckling style of play.  I delight in his enthusiasm for the game.  He strikes me as an outstandingly decent human being in a league that is full of decent human beings.

And I believe that, after several years of being badly mishandled by the Oilers, he does have a realistic shot at rehabilitating his psyche and his game, and he’ll start to live up to the promise and the talent that let him outscore Steven Stamkos’ rookie numbers in Sarnia.  I WANT MORE CELLYS!  And I think there’s a good chance I’m going to get them.

Why do I believe that?

Because I believe that.  Roll the bones.

Actually, one reason for hope comes, as mentioned earlier, from looking at his points and career splits.

  • In his rookie year, Yak lead the team (and all NHL rookies for that matter) in goal scoring.  Unsustainable sh% for sure … but he did.
  • This last season, with Eakins as coach and rookie Draisaitl as his C, Yak put up 8 points in his first 31 games (0.258 ppg).  That’s not good for any player, let alone a former 1OV.
  • With Nelson as coach and veteran Roy as his C (Dec 30th on), Yak put up 25 points in 45 games (0.556 ppg).  Even the haters would have to agree that’s a massive in-season jump, into pretty decent scoring territory.

Visually Better

More than just points, Yak had a number of games in the latter part of the season where I thought he was the best player on the ice – something that also hadn’t happened much (or at all) since his rookie season.  Visually better!

For this article, I thought I would explore that idea.  Was Yak really looking good those last 30 games or so, or was it an illusion brought on by my wishing him to succeed?

The numbers, crunched and delicious

To test the idea, I pulled the Cult of Hockey player individual game grades from last season and ran a few numbers on the two splits for Yakupov.

The raters at CoH for these games were Young Jonathan Willis and Not So Young Bruce McCurdy.  Both have been keen observers of the game for a long time, and I think it is reasonable to ascribe some measure of both ability and objectivity to their ratings, yes?  If you don’t agree, probably best to stop reading right now!

YAKUPOV Pre-Roy (to Dec 30th):
Games 36
Avg CoH score ¹ 4.98
Highest score ² 7
# times rated 7 or higher 6 (16.7%)
# times rated best player on ice 0
# times tied for best player on ice 2 (5.6%)
# times rated worst player on ice 0
# times tied for worst player on ice 1 (2.8%)

¹ Average CoH rating for all Oiler players for the entire season was 4.88.

² Cult of Hockey player grade definitions: 10 being a “perfect” game, 9 extraordinary, 8 great, 7 good, 6 above average, 5 average, 4 below average, 3 poor, 2 terrible and 1 deserving of almost instant demotion.

YAKUPOV Post-Roy (from Dec 30th):
Games 44
Avg CoH score 5.33
Highest score 8
# times rated 7 or higher 11 (25%)
# times rated best player on ice 3 (6.8%)
# times tied for best player on ice 5 (11.4%)
# times rated worst player on ice 1 (2.3%)
# times tied for worst player on ice 2 (4.6%)

These results concur with my memory – what they’re saying is that fully 1 in 4 games after Derek Roy became his centre, Yakupov was a good-to-great player.

And he was the best or tied for the best Oiler player on the ice in 1 out of 5 games.

In fact, the improvement in Yak’s game is understated by these stats.  You may have noticed that Yak also had a few games where he was rated worst on the ice, which didn’t really happen pre-Roy.

Well, it so happens that of those three brutal games where Yak was worst or tied for worst on the team – all three happened in an eight game stretch immediately after Roy came on board.  During that time, Yak was getting really poor scores across the board.  Clearly, there was some adjusting going on.

That’s probably what Yak was referring to when he said Roy was swearing at him and he was initially ‘scared’ of (the 5′ 8″) centre for the first five or six games!

After those 8 games, Yak had a stretch of 13 games where he was mostly OK (average 5.15 score), with no bests or worsts, though certainly some good and some bad games.

After that point is when Yak’s game took off.  All 8 of the post-Roy games in which he was the best or tied for best on the team came in the last 24 games of the season.

Think about that.  According to the (reasonably objective) CoH raters, Nail Yakupov was the best, or tied for best, Oiler player on the ice 1 out of every 3 games over the last quarter of the season.

His average CoH score in that segment was 5.875, a pretty massive jump from his first 36 games.

By comparison, over that same 24 game stretch to finish the season, RNH (unquestionably the Oilers best player over that time) was rated on average just ahead of Yak at 5.9.  Eberle averaged 5.48, and Hall post-post-injury averaged 5.45.  Those are some tough markers over there at CoH!  (or given how bad the Oilers were, ‘fair markers’ is probably right).

Put another way, Yak’s 5.875 over those last 24 games was the second highest rank on the team (other than Broissoit’s single game rank of 9) after RNH.

That’s pretty stellar company.

So big picture.  Yeah, my eyes weren’t lying.  Yak was making a difference, in a really good way, that last quarter of the season.  All it took was a veteran C to help him along.  Imagine that.

So what about next year?

Hey, I do expect good things from Yak.  And there’s some pressure now – he’s in his fourth year in the NHL.  He has to find his way in the league … or he’ll find his way out of the league.

But just imagine if next year, Yak is consistently in the same range as the Nuge for impact on the ice.  Yak brings a lot of things the other top 6 guys don’t – a ridiculously hard shot and a willingness to forecheck hard and hit the other team.  If you could combine that with scoring and regular impact play … that would be huge for this team.  Huge.

He may not get a veteran centre like Roy this year, but I happen to agree with Archaeologuy – give him a ludicrously talented one instead.  Put Yak on McDavid’s wing.  Let’s see what talent does with talent.

To conclude, then, its not unreasonable to have great ExYakspectations for Nail next year.

Yak’s story is not yet written.  In the immortal words of Nailiam Yakspeare:

This season, let us cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the Yaks of war!


10 thoughts on “Great Yakspectations

  1. Even if Yak splits time with CMD and Lander at the start. He’ll have a decent shot to lock himself in as the 2RW by the trade deadline. I’m cheering like crazy for him.


  2. I think that Yak is going to have a big year. The lines that I would like to see tried for the first 20 games are : RNH-Eberlie-Draisaitl ; McDavid-Hall-Yakupov. Let talent play with talent.


    1. Agreed. I think we’ll see a reprisal of Pouliot on the RNH line, but expect Draisaitl – who brings something rare and needed for the Oilers – is going to force his way on to the team sooner rather than later.


  3. Excellent article. glad you proved to me my eye was not lying ti me. Shows what a coach that shows confidence in a player can do for that player. Just frustrates me how 1.5 years was wasted. Hopeful Yak will continue is ascend upwards


  4. G – I posted this comment at LT’s in February. It’s on topic so I thought I’d repost here if that’s ok.

    “There’s a player whose development path matches Yakupov’s development to date almost exactly – Phil Kessel.

    Kessel was an offensive power as a freshman in college in his draft year, scoring 1.3 ppg.

    Yakupov was an offensive power as an 18 year old in the OHL in his draft year, scoring 1.6 ppg.

    Both made the NHL as 18 year olds – and really struggled.

    Through Kessel’s first 152 games (spread over two seasons), he scored 66 pts – 30 goals and 36 assists.

    Through Yakupov’s first 152 games (spread over three seasons because of the lockout), he scored 64 pts – 31 goals and 33 assists.

    In Kessel’s third season his offence came around though – 60 points in 70 games. He’s been one of the top scoring forwards in the NHL ever since.

    In what is effectively the start of Yakupov’s third season in the league (in terms of games played), he has 12 points in 20 games (including 10 in the last 10).

    People keep comparing Yakupov to other first overall picks (like Jonathan here:, but it really doesn’t make any sense to do so given the variation in the quality of players available at the top of the draft from year to year.

    Had Yakupov been in Hall’s draft year, he would have gone third at best. In this year’s class he might be sixth or seventh.

    In Kessel’s case, the top end of his draft class was exceptionally strong, so he went fifth. Had he been in Yakupov’s year though, he may well have gone first overall, given the relative weakness of the top of that class.

    Had these two situations been reversed – Kessel drafted first overall in a weak draft and Yakupov taken fifth in a strong one – we would have likely seen Kessel subject to intensifying criticism from the middle of his first season onward, whereas Yak’s shortcomings as a player would probably still be chalked up to his youth (though there might at this point be questions about his ability to play a two way game, as there were with Kessel).

    And Kessel’s development suggests that in a couple of seasons the Oilers may have one of the most prolific scoring forwards in the NHL, but one who is fairly indifferent defensively. The kind of player that you don’t necessarily want to build your team around (as the Leafs have shown), but provides you with the firepower you need to win a Cup (see Pat Kane in Chicago).”


  5. And a short update on that post. In the first 40 games of his third season Kessel had 40 pts, whereas Yak only had 24 through the first 40 of his. So Yak has fallen off the pace after matching him almost exactly through two seasons.

    That said, Kessel’s shooting percentage during the first 40 games of his third season was 17.3% (vs a career SP% of 10.2) and was on a great Boston team that lost only 11 of those 40 games.

    Yak shooting percentage during the first 40 games of his third season by contrast was 8.9% (vs a career SP% of 10.8) and he was on a shitty Oilers team that lost 26 of those 40 games.

    If Yak scores at a .66 ppg rate through the first half of this season he’ll match Kessel’s performance over the second half of his third season.


      1. Nope.

        And if you have a grittier version of Kessel as either the third part of a Hall-McDavid superline, or with an outstanding two way centre in RNH leading up your secondary scoring line, you’re in great shape.


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