Double Standards and Nail Yakupov12 Sep 2016
Keep seeing some bloggers/fans insist that Yakupov MUST play with McDavid. IMO that ship has sailed! Time for Yak to prove it... on his own!— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) September 8, 2016
My desire to respond to that tweet from Bob Stauffer nearly got me to dust off Oilogger. I’ve been thinking about it for two years now.
Just three days later, however, this blog post finally did. There was no way to respond in 140 characters or less. I usually enjoy reading the articles on Oil on Whyte, it’s a great site, but this one I disagree with a lot, as you’ll see. I feel it perpetuates a number of myths about Yakupov and the Oilers in general, and I want to gather my thoughts on the topic in one place.
Without further ado, here is my response to “Yakupov Needs to Prove Himself, By Himself”.
Silber: Edmonton Oilers winger Nail Yakupov hasn’t exactly been able to live up to the expectations put on his shoulders at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Automatically, the first-overall pick was expected to turn around the Oilers franchise… [emphasis added]
Yakupov was never expected to turn around the Oilers franchise. How was a team known for having too many small, soft wingers, no centre depth, no defence, and terrible goaltending supposed to be automatically turned around by a small winger?
Silber: and ever since then, he has struggled to score and properly develop into the elite NHL winger he was predicted to become.
Ever since he was drafted?
In his rookie season, Yakupov led the Oilers in goals scored, with 17 in 48 games. He scored more goals than Hall, Eberle and Gagner. (Nuge scored 4) Yakupov tied for the lead in rookie scoring in the NHL. So no, he hasn’t struggle to score “ever since” he was drafted. In fact, since Yakupov was drafted, Nuge only has 9 more goals than him (59 vs 50), despite having 21.6% more icetime 5 on 5, and playing 709% more with Taylor Hall.
Silber: However, something changed when Connor McDavid was added to the roster.
Wait a minute, we just skipped two whole seasons! What happened to 2013-14 and 2014-15? This is what happened.
Yakupov was drafted to score goals, and he delivered in his rookie season, so you can imagine his surprise and dismay when he was introduced to the double standard that’s dogged him ever since.
Earn your opportunities to play with skilled linemates, he was told by the ultimate chip-on-the-shoulder journeyman.
Credit: Edmonton Journal
The media reported this, and the Oilers’ bewilderingly loyal, blue-collar fanbase lapped it up like milk. Chop wood, carry water… right? It resonated because Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov and Schultz had been gifted icetime and top linemates as rookies with zero accountability, and it felt like progress. Tough love – it works right?
It didn’t go well for young Nail.
Last April looked like Oilers got it right with Yakupov. The organization needs to work with YAK and make him the star he should be...— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) November 19, 2013
Bob was right, and that still hasn’t happened. Yakupov needs to own that, but so do the Oilers, because they became responsible for his development the moment they drafted him, and they knew he was one-dimensional before June of 2012.
In Eakins 2nd and mercifully final season with the Oilers, Yakupov was off to a terrible start. Just 8 points in the 35 games before Todd Nelson took over as Head Coach. One game after that, the Oilers traded Mark Arcobello for Derek Roy. In the 45 games Yakupov played after Derek Roy joined the Oilers, he scored 25 points (0.555 points per game). Still not world-beating numbers, but a 72% improvement over the 99 games played since the beginning of his sophomore season when Eakins arrived, where he scored just 32 points (0.323 points per game).
Yakupov was extremely happy playing with Derek Roy under Todd Nelson. A few takeaway quotes:
Tychkowski: “I feel amazing now,” grinned Yakupov. “I was waiting for a centre for three years. It’s the first time I’ve had a really good centre and I’m really happy for it.
“He’s helped me a lot. I think he’s the guy who helped me the most.”
“When you don’t have support, and when you’re not feeling any trust from the coach… it’s pretty tough to play the game on the bench,” he said.
I could write another 5,000 words about how badly Eakins set back the Oilers, but let’s continue.
Silber: However, something changed when Connor McDavid was added to the roster. When both of them were finally put on a line together, intense chemistry took over, and the two were unstoppable in their short trial together. After a short time together, both players fell victim to injury, and McDavid would return to play with Jordan Eberle.
It’s worth noting that Eberle started the season injured too. Had he not, he probably would have played with McDavid and we wouldn’t even know McDavid and Yakupov have “intense chemistry”.
Instead, McDavid’s career started with Slepyshev on his right wing. Both went scoreless. Yakupov also went scoreless playing with Lander and Korpse. In game 2, McDavid was saddled with Korpse, who swapped places with Slepyshev, and McDavid was scoreless again (they lost 2-0).
In the 10 games that followed, McDavid played with Yakupov, who scored 12 and 10 points respectively.
We know what happened next. We do not forgive. We do not forget.
Silber: Because both McDavid and Yakupov are healthy, many believe that the two should be reunited on the first line, with Milan Lucic joining them down the left side.
Indeed. Lowetide thinks so too.
Mitchell, Sept. 7: I would suggest McDavid—Yakupov has nothing to do with the Russian deserving to play with 97, but it has everything to do with making decisions based on winning.
So does Archaeologuy.
Henderson, Aug. 16: There’s only one puck out there. With Milan Lucic destined to play the left side with McDavid (I mean, that was the promise Chiarelli made, isn’t it?) then why use Eberle on the top line when his talent would almost certainly boost the 2nd line more than Yakupov would? If the Oilers score about the same with Yak & McDavid vs Eberle & McDavid then the next question is about who would boost the 2nd line more. If Yakupov boosted the RNH-Pouliot line more than Eberle then I would be arguing for Yak to stay with them. That’s not the case. Eberle has the talent to create more offense with RNH and Pouliot than Yak.
And Jonathan Willis…
Willis, Feb. 15: Alternately, Yakupov could go back to playing with McDavid. The benefits for Yakupov are obvious, as are the benefits to whichever line then gets to play with Jordan Eberle. It’s not at all clear that the Oilers would be worse off in this scenario—whatever loss of effectiveness Eberle suffers is likely to be compensated for by a return to effectiveness for Yakupov—but even if they are it won’t be by much and it’s not like the playoffs are on the line.
Sounds like a plan. Not so fast…
Silber: However, considering McDavid’s strong chemistry with Eberle,
Yes, Eberle has chemistry with McDavid too. That’s undeniable and extremely fortunate for him, the Oilers and Oilers fans. The Oilers have two skilled right wingers with chemistry with McDavid, while the Penguins have been searching for years for players that can play with Crosby.
Henderson: However, when the team iced Connor McDavid with Yak, the Oilers scored 3.80 Goals For per 60 minutes and allowed 3.21 Goals Against per 60 minutes. That’s a GF percentage of 54.2% and their shot attempt ratio was 51.9%. The numbers are almost identical except the Oilers actually scored more and were scored on less when McDavid was with Yakupov.
Unfortunately, Yakupov and RNH are like oil and water (no pun intended). They have yet to figure out how to be effective together, and the opportunity seldomly arises. In fact, at 5-on-5, Yakupov has spent more time playing with Derek Roy (534 mins) than he has with RNH (432 mins) over his entire career, and Roy was only an Oiler for 46 games. I find that absolutely astounding.
The fact is, if you put Eberle with McDavid, you’re putting Yakupov with RNH (don’t), or Draisaitl. We’ve seen some signs of chemistry between Yak and Drai but I’m not sure Drai’s defensive game is ready to deal with Yak’s defensive game.
If they put Yakupov with McDavid, you can play Eberle with RNH, and they’ll be great too. Two great lines, what a concept!
Silber: rating of players down the right side
Rating? Whose ratings? Prior to the Versteeg PTO, conventional wisdom in the Oilers blogosphere had the Oilers right side depth like this:
Versteeg would slot in either just above or just below Yakupov depending on your opinion of Versteeg’s ability to play.
I hope for Versteeg's sake he has an NHL out clause. He can still play. https://t.co/BlzdDxV7Bu— Jim Roepcke (@JimRoepckeOilrs) July 24, 2016
Silber: and the fact that Yakupov has yet to prove himself worthy of a first-line spot,
Which of the young players the Oilers drafted starting with Eberle (amazingly now the longest-serving Oiler) have actually earned their first-line spot to show him how that’s done? What does it even mean to earn a first-line spot? Recall that the Oilers’ blue-collar fanbase loves stories like Shawn Horcoff’s, who famously worked his way up from the 4th line to “earn” a 1st line spot. Never mind that the Oilers simply had nobody better than him, gave him an outrageous contract he couldn’t live up to, felt obligated to play him in the top-6 to justify the contract, and the Oilers missed the playoffs for 7 of 8 years years once he played on the first line.
So, did Eberle earn his 1st line spot? He was gifted top-6 minutes from day 1 and was never put in the doghouse for terrible defensive play. And there was a LOT of it.
How about Hall? Same thing.
Nuge? Ditto. His defensive game is better than Hall’s or Eberle’s but it’s exceeded by its reputation.
Draisaitl? Still hasn’t made the first line, but he’s never had to toil in the bottom 6. Neither did Nuge, Hall, or Eberle.
McDavid? Just kidding, he’s probably the best player in the world, don’t be ridiculous. If there was a 0th line, he’d be on it.
So, there you have it, the double standard. Yakupov has to PROVE he’s worthy of playing on the 1st line by EARNING it, even though none of his peers were. I honestly don’t think any of those players should have had to “earn” their top-6 or 1st-line minutes though, because they’re all first-overall or first-round picks that have proven their ability to produce offensively in a top-6 role. That includes Yakupov, as we’ll see soon.
He’s been forced to try to do it by himself for most of the last 3 seasons, save for the time playing with player-coach Derek Roy, and the 10 game stint where he was “unstoppable” with McDavid.
What he’s proven is he can put up points consistently when he plays with a skilled, smart centre that will pass him the puck. He did it in his rookie season, he did it in 2014-15 playing with Derek Roy, and he did it last season playing with McDavid. What more does he have to do?
Points per 60 minutes, 5-on-5
This table shows us a couple things.
- In his rookie season under Krueger (before Eakins destroyed him), Yakupov produced at nearly the same rate as Eberle. But that didn’t prove anything, apparently. Eberle’s P/60 was 1.827 in his rookie year. Hall’s was 2.391, and RNH’s was 1.954.
- Eberle had better production 2 seasons ago than last season! This shocked me. Eberle had an impressive 2.315 P/60 when playing 5-on-5 with RNH in 2014-15. Not quite as high as his 2.636 with McDavid (edging out Yak by a miniscule 0.006), but high enough to give us confidence an RNH/Eberle pairing will be successful.
2012-2016 points per 60 minutes, 5-on-5, minimum 100 minutes
|Playing With||Eberle’s P/60||Yakupov’s P/60||Better|
|Horcoff||N/A (1 in 13:20)||4.545||N/A|
|Roy||N/A (0 in 30:45)||1.685||N/A|
|Letestu||N/A (0 in 38:01)||0.251||N/A|
|Gordon||0.564||N/A (0 in 71:12)||N/A|
This table tells us a few more things.
- When Yakupov plays with top-6 players, he consistently produces like a top-6 player.
- Yakupov had better production rates than Eberle with Hall, Gagner and Perron, and Eberle’s rates with McDavid and Pouliot are just barely better than Yakupov’s.
- Eberle has barely spent any time playing with bottom-6 players, but when he does he doesn’t produce either.
- How did Eberle manage to play only 13:20 with Horcoff in 2013? Wow.
To be clear, I’m comparing Yakupov with Eberle here becauase I think Eberle is a very good player, and believe Eberle didn’t have to prove anything after his rookie season to keep being treated fairly. And to reiterate, it’s more the case that the Oilers simply lacked the depth to provide Yakupov with skilled linemates than they had a desire to play him with terrible players to teach him a lesson. However, because of the PR narrative that has been read by the media time and time again about “earning” the opportunity, we’re at this point where people will now wave their hands and state unequivocally…
Silber: the 22-year-old needs to prove himself, by himself.
…without evening knowing how to accomplish that. Honestly, how? Is there a checklist? By himself? Is he supposed to take on the LA Kings 1 on 5?
But wait, we know how Yakupov produced playing with top-6 players, but how have other players produced playing with Yakupov and Eberle (a good player that’s apparently proven himself)?
2012-2016 points per 60 minutes, 5-on-5, minimum 100 minutes
|Teammate||His P/60 with Eberle||(His P/60 with Yakupov)||Better with|
This table tells us a couple things:
- The two best players the Oilers have during Yakupov’s career score at signficantly higher rates when playing with Yakupov than with Eberle. Too bad that doesn’t prove he’s ready for 1st line minutes.
- The only player that does significantly better playing with Eberle is RNH, who I’ll remind you can bring the best out of Eberle, and would be Eberle’s linemate if Yakupov plays with McDavid.
Oh, and by the way, Letestu’s even strength P/60 last year was 0.754 when playing with Yakupov, and 0.557 otherwise. Unfortunately, Yakupov’s P/60 with Letestu was 0.251. Eberle’s was 0.000 playing with Letestu, but that was in an insufficent sample size of only 38:01 so conveniently for him, we cannot conclude anything there except that in about 40 shifts, Eberle couldn’t overcome Letestu to produce a single point while he’d normally produce 1.2 points in that amount of time.
Silber: How is it fair that Yakupov should slot in on the first line when he is the only beneficiary?
As you can see above, that’s patently untrue. Playing Yakupov with McDavid would benefit McDavid, RNH, and in my opinion, the entire team.
Silber: Sure, it is obvious that he performs well with McDavid. In order to play with a player like McDavid, you need to possess great speed, a similar thought process and stick-handling ability. Yakupov has those factors in his play, and that makes these two a strong combination.
Agreed, thank you.
Silber: Without each other, they fare differently: because of McDavid’s ability, he manages to keep consistency in his play and continue to produce, no matter who he is playing with.
He’s CONNOR FREAKING MCDAVID. And as such, there will never be sample sizes large enough to prove that with any confidence.
How does Eberle do when he plays with bottom 6 players? Surprise! The sample sizes are so small it’s practically impossible to know for sure, but from the table above we see Eberle produced around 20% as many points playing with Gordon as he did McDavid, and about 32% as much playing with Lander as McDavid.
What that tells me is that when a good player plays with BAD players, his production suffers. And logic dictates the same thing would happen to Yakupov. And it does.
Silber: Yakupov, on the other hand, falls apart, and his play suffers.
In the game after McDavid was injured, RNH took McDavid’s spot and Yakupov had an assist.
In 8 of the following 9 games, Yakupov played with Letestu and… had an assist (on the powerplay). If you believe in the double standard applied to Yakupov, that he should have to prove himself, he should have continued scoring despite playing 2:35 less per game, with 4th line NHLers Letestu and Hendricks, and AHLers Lander (in the throws of a historically bad season) and Slepyshev (in his first game in 2 weeks and last before being demoted to the AHL), while seeing his defensize zone starts jump from 15.4% to 33.3%, and his offensize zone starts drop from 42.9% to 37.1%. (TOI and ZS via Corsica)
We know it’s possible to continue scoring under those conditions because we have mountains of evidence that prove skilled offensive players thrive playing with bad players in their own zone, but mostly sit on the bench. Let me just go find it.
Actually, I can’t find the supporting data, because it doesn’t exist.
Anyway, after loving life from November 8th through November 23rd, this happened to poor Nail.
When Yakupov returned to the lineup in January, prior to McDavid’s return, he found himself playing with Lander, Kassian, Korpse, Hendricks, and Letestu for 5 games. He scored 2 goals in this span, and was rewarded with a game on the 2nd line with Pouliot and Eberle. Pouliot was the centre. /facepalm
The Oilers lost that game 4-1, including an empty net goal. Nail was scoreless and was -1, and I can only conclude the loss was his fault because he was on the ice while the Predators scored, somehow getting past Norris candidate Justin Schultz (-2) and long-time veteran Darnell Nurse (-3). That was the last game before the all-star break, and the last game before McDavid returned.
McLellan had a lot of time to reflect on that loss. To punish Yakupov for sinking the team’s playoff chances, he was banished to Siberia for the next 14 games. And by Siberia I mean the 3rd and 4th lines, playing with Letestu, Kassian, Hendricks, Pakarinen, Korpikoski, Lander, and Pouliot (who started one game on the 4th line as punishment for taking undisciplined penalties).
During these 14 games, Yakupov scored just 1 goal despite being put in a position to succeed with players that play a fast skilled game like him (snicker). That prompted this article from Jonathan Willis:
OilersNation: NAIL YAKUPOV SHOULDN’T BE PLAYING WITH MARK LETESTU
Willis: Whatever the Oilers think of or plan to do with Yakupov, though, his current assignment next to Letestu seems like a mistake. It’s not good for Yakupov, it’s not good for Letestu and it isn’t good for Edmonton.
Inhale. Exhale. Deeeeeeep breaths. It’s only a game, Jim…
Silber: Edmonton has also acquired great depth on the right side, acquiring Kris Versteeg and up-and-coming Jesse Puljujarvi. This is a reason for excitement and experimentation, and one of these players could end up stealing the spot next to him.
Would they even consider putting Versteeg with McDavid, or is that crazy because it’s assumed to be Eberle’s spot? Considering they already have two younger, more skilled right-wingers with chemistry with McDavid, it’s probably premature to consider it, so, Versteeg would be an option on the RNH, Draisaitl or (shudder) Letestu line.
Silber: Saying that Yakupov needs to play with another player to make him better is analogous to saying a player cut the NHL draft because of his linemates.
Making Yakupov “earn” his ice time with skilled centres is like making me “earn” my productivity by making me use a 386 when I start a job.— Jim Roepcke (@JimRoepckeOilrs) September 8, 2016
Silber: In the end, Yakupov is not a better player because of someone else;
As I’ve shown above, none of his skilled teammates with the possible exceptions of Taylor Hall and Connor McDavid would do well playing with the unskilled players Yakupov has been forced to endure.
Silber: he can only improve if he puts in the work on his own.
I’ll just leave you with this:
I believe in Nail Yakupov and I look forward to seeing him not play with Mark Letestu this season.
The Yak Attack produced 2-3-5 in the final 6 games of the seasaon, including 2 assists in the finale.
Finally, if you’re in Penticton next week for the Young Stars tournament, ping me on Twitter, I’d love to meet anyone that read this far and hear what you think. My blog doesn’t have comments, so Twitter is the best place to respond.
Go Oilers Go!
Jim Roepcke is a software developer living in Penticton, BC. He was 4 years old when the Oilers joined the NHL, and grew up thinking it was normal for the teams he cheered for to win the Stanley Cup and Grey Cup every year. Sigh.