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.
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):
|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):
|Avg CoH score||5.33|
|# 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!