Under Pressure: Nail Yakupov


The Nail Yakupov headlines on PHT last season pretty much say it all:

Failing Nail? Oilers scratch Yakupov Saturday

Yakupov ‘not happy’ about being a healthy scratch

Yakupov will be a healthy scratch again Monday

Russian Olympic scout blasts Yakupov: ‘If he’s not going to change his game, he has no future’

Yakupov’s agent to meet with Oilers, ‘willing to make a move’

Yakupov: ‘It’s pretty cold on the bench’

Oilers to healthy scratch Yakupov… again

Eakins to Yakupov: ‘You’ve got to earn it’

So yeah, 2013-14 was not the greatest for Yak. Aside from the healthy scratches, trade rumors and acrimonious relationship with his head coach, Yakupov also missed 16 games to injury (concussion, ankle) and finished with the fourth-worst plus-minus rating in the league last year, at minus-33.

It’s almost hard to remember that, just two years ago, Yakupov was a tantalizing talent that tore up the Ontario Hockey League, scoring 170 points in 102 games over the course of two seasons with Sarnia. That paved the way for Edmonton to select him first overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, which paved the way for an immediate jump to the NHL, where he actually fared quite well — remember that Yakupov led all rookies in goals during the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign, with 17, and finished fifth in Calder voting.

Which made last season all the more nightmarish.

Now — and this is weird to say about someone that doesn’t turn 21 until October — Yakupov is at something of a crossroads. Barring a piano falling on his head, everything that could’ve gone wrong last year did, which provides plenty of narratives as the Russian sniper heads into the final year of his entry-level deal. Is Yakupov a quality player that simply had a dreadful sophomore slump? Or is he a one-dimensional, offense-first guy that just doesn’t get it?

To that last point — maybe he does get it. Contract status and his future with the Oilers are on the line, and it’s something Yakupov recognizes. From the Edmonton Journal:

Yakupov spent the first part of the summer back home in Russia with his family and friends. While he was having a good time and training as much as possible, he recently returned to Edmonton to get ready for his third NHL season.

“It’s maybe a huge year for me,” he said. “I feel more comfortable to train here than at home, so that’s why I’m here.

“I’ll train with the Oilers prospects, and then the NHL players are going to come, and then I want to play in the three-on-three tournament. … I want to be here.”

It’s worth noting that pressure on Yakupov is coming from outside Edmonton as well. Ryan Murray, who the Oilers passed on at the ’12 draft, just turned in a banner year on the Columbus blueline. The decision was controversial at the time…

… and continues to be today, especially with how valuable talented young defensemen are. And how badly Edmonton could use one.

So, just to refresh what Yakupov’s up against: a contract year, coming off a horrible second season, under a head coach he didn’t see eye-to-eye with and in the growing shadow of Murray, the guy the Oilers could’ve had.

That’s pressure.

Johansen calls trade rumblings ‘weird,’ says relationship with Torts is ‘great’

Ryan Johansen
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One day after reports surfaced of Ryan Johansen being at the center of trade talks, all parties involved from Columbus did what they’re supposed to do — downplay the situation.

You can read the denials in full over at the Dispatch, but here’s the gist:

— Johansen said the rumors were “weird” and that he’s “never seen it before.” He also said there were no issues between him and head coach John Tortorella, calling the relationship “great.”

— GM Jarmo Kekalainen wouldn’t address the report, nor would Johansen’s agent, Kurt Overhardt.

— Johansen added he hasn’t spoken to any of Columbus’ management about the trade rumblings.

So there’s that. What’s next?

At this stage of the game, it’s hard not to think about another Overhardt client, Kyle Turris.

Turris, you’ll recall, spent four (mostly) stormy years with the Coyotes before his trade out to Ottawa was orchestrated. Turris eventually told GM Don Maloney “this is not going to work out” with the club, and he was gone.

So, consider the similarities now:

— Turris was 22 at the time of the trade, with four years and 137 games under his belt.

— Johansen is 23, with five years and 291 games.

— Both had contentious contract holdouts with their respective clubs.

— Both are Overhardt guys.

— The Turris trade happened after the Coyotes went from Wayne Gretzky to Dave Tippett as head coach.

— Johansen is already on his third head coach (Scott Arniel, Todd Richards, Tortorella).

For now, these are all coincidences (or a forced narrative, depending what you think of the author).

And, of course, the one big — big — difference between the two is that, at the time of his trade, Turris wasn’t as good or established a player as Johansen currently is. Therefore, logic suggests any Johansen trade would be a lot more blockbuster-y and, therefore, probably more complex.

And as we know, complex deals aren’t easy to pull off.

Flyers’ Gagner to miss another week after Malone hit

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The nasty blow Sam Gagner took in Monday’s game against Carolina will keep him on the shelf for a little bit.

On Wednesday, Flyers GM Ron Hextall said the club expected Gagner to be out around a week with injuries suffered on the hit, delivered by ‘Canes forward Brad Malone (per the Inquirer).

Gagner suffered a fairly significant facial laceration, which forced him from the game entirely. He didn’t practice on Tuesday and, in a corresponding move, the Flyers called up Colin McDonald from the AHL to fill Gagner’s spot on the roster.

This is the second facial injury Gagner’s suffered in recent years. He’d previously had his jaw broken by an errant Zack Kassian high stick, while he was with the Oilers and Kassian the Canucks.

Prior to getting hurt, Gagner had two goals and five points in 18 games, averaging just under 12 minutes per night.

‘It’s absolutely not true’ — Lemieux denies report of ‘big falling out’ with Crosby

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 5:  Sidney Crosby #87 and Mario Lemieux #66 of the Pittsburgh Penguins share a few words during a break in action against the New Jersey Devils in their NHL opening night game at the Continental Airlines Arena on October 5, 2005 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  The Devils won 5-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Well, that didn’t take long.

Just hours after Matthew Barnaby went on the radio and said he’d heard that Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux had had a “big falling out,” Lemieux came out and denied it.

“It’s absolutely not true,” said Lemieux, per the club’s Twitter account. “It’s silly.”

Today marked the second time in less than two weeks that the Penguins have been forced do some damage control.

Last week, the Penguins insisted that they weren’t actually “mad at each other,” as Evgeni Malkin had put it after a bad loss to New Jersey.

“He did not mean we are mad at each other,” said Crosby. “He meant we are frustrated.”

Matthew Barnaby has heard that Crosby and Lemieux had a ‘big falling out’

Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel

Every day there seems to be another “thing” about the Pittsburgh Penguins.

We say “thing,” because we’re not really sure how to categorize it. It’s never anything concrete. It’s smoke, without definitive proof of a fire.

But whether it’s Evgeni Malkin saying the Penguins are “mad at each other”…or Guy Lafleur wondering if Sidney Crosby should try and find a new team…or a prominent NHL reporter like Elliotte Friedman talking about the “very tense environment” in the organization…

The clear insinuation is that all is not well in Pittsburgh.

The latest “thing”?

Ex-Penguin Matthew Barnaby has “looked into it” and what’s he’s heard is that Crosby and co-owner Mario Lemieux have had a “big falling out.”

“Now whether that pushes them to move him at some point? Whether he wants to move? That I don’t know,” Barnaby said today on SiriusXM, via Puck Daddy.

Again, it’s all just scuttlebutt at this point. After Malkin’s “mad at each other” remark, the players insisted that that wasn’t true. Malkin said he didn’t mean it that way.

So choose for yourself what to believe.

But despite the winning record, unless this team starts playing the way it was designed to play — i.e. scoring a lot of goals, not the 26th-most in the NHL — don’t be surprised if you hear more “things.”

The Penguins host St. Louis tonight.