Edmonton Oilers firecracker Nail Yakupov still waiting to ignite
Forward still on the hunt for first goal of the season
EDMONTON - Nobody’s yakking about Nail right now.
We’re three games and 10 regulation goals into the Edmonton Oilers’ 2013-14 season and the quietest guy is last year’s flashiest forward Nail Yakupov.
Admittedly, we’re talking about a very small sampling, three out of 82 games, but Yakupov doesn’t have a goal or an assist.
“Yeah, three games, no points. That is interesting,” says Yakupov.
Yakupov had two goals in his first three games during his freshman NHL season and four in the initial six. He finished the season with 17 goals after scoring on six of 13 shots over the Oilers’ final three games — the most on the team or any NHL rookie. He admittedly had a dry spell from Feb. 28 through March 30.
“Fourteen games, but there were some apples in there, some assists,” he says.
While, Yakupov was one of head coach Dallas Eakins’ go-to guys in the last period of the Oilers’ comeback win over the New Jersey Devils, something has pulled the plug on Yakupov’s offence.
Eakins has a unit of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, and another of David Perron, Ales Hemsky and Mark Arcobello. Yakupov is on a line with centre Boyd Gordon, and Ryan Smyth.
Yakupov is disappointed by his lack of scoring but remains focused.
“I’m still working on my shots every practice and I have some thoughts and I’m watching some video, but I’m not going that crazy,” he said Wednesday.
“I’m trying to not put my head down. First you have to play for the team; the goals will come.”
Currently, Eberle and Hemsky are Eakins’ top two right-wingers. Hall and Perron are the first two left-wingers. Yakupov is getting second power play time and is playing a minute, 21 seconds more than he did last season.
Yakupov isn’t looking for any favours, he knows there’s a raft of offensive options for Eakins.
“Doesn’t matter if I play two … or 20 (minutes), you have to push 100 per cent … If you are young or old, you can’t swear at the coach and ask why you’re not playing. If you play five minutes that’s your time (to produce) … ” he said.
Eakins says it’s been a struggle for Yakupov, 20.
“He’s shown some flashes of excellence. He’s had a couple of dark periods, as well,” said Eakins.
“That’s not uncommon though for a player of his age. The more experienced a player the more level, even-keel they play every night. The more inexperienced the player, the more ups and downs, from game to game and from shift to shift. He’s trying to find himself.”
“We’ve got a lot of work to do with Yak, but he’s got so much upside. Boy, when he grabs that puck, everyone leans forward on their seat. He got a fair bit of ice-time in the third period against the Devils, about nine minutes, almost half the period.”
“I am frustrated. I’m always thinking about it, at home and here (in the dressing room),” said Yakupov.
“I’m trying to do the same things as last year. I hit the post in the third (against New Jersey) but we won the game, we got the great comeback. If we had lost three in a row, there would be more pressure, the coach would be hard, we would be watching more video, bad feeling for fans,” he said.
Alex Ovechkin couldn’t score for a long stretch last year, then everything went in and he finished with 32 in 48 games.
“Yeah, but I’m not like Ovechkin. He has a stronger shot, he shoots from everywhere. I don’t want to shoot from the blue-line (to score), but if I’m around the net for three or four minutes, I’m shooting. I can make plays too,” he said.
Trouble is, he hasn’t been in enough of the danger zones from the goalies.
Still, Yakupov is like a firecracker, he’s quiet at first, then boom.
“The danger of Yak is he doesn’t need five chances to score one goal. If he gets five chances, it might be five goals. He’s clearly a guy the other team should be nervous about. We just have to get him to a level where he’s dangerous offensively every shift and making the right decisions when we don’t have it,” said Eakins.
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