Edmonton Oilers coach Dallas Eakins surprised many by making 2012 top pick Nail Yakupov a healthy scratch on Saturday. While a message might have been sent, Yakupov told the Edmonton Journal that he isn’t happy … and he’s just going to change the way he plays.
“I’m not happy about it. I just want to play every game,” Yakupov said.
“I’m going to play my game … I’m not going to change but maybe play better without the puck, or forecheck more, but I love playing with the puck. I really don’t like skating all the time, and forechecking, and hitting somebody every shift. I don’t think it’s my game.”
Yakupov, 20, proved divisive last season with his flamboyant goal celebration(s). It’s refreshing to hear him be so frank about his style, but some might want him to add a little more “sandpaper” to his game.
As far as Eakins is concerned, he just wants to make sure that the talented sniper doesn’t try to do it all by himself.
“The kids’ passion is to score and he was just going to take it all on himself to do that,” said Eakins. “I don’t care how good you are, you can’t produce by yourself in this league. You have to use your linemates, so it was more of a reset button for him. He can come in fresh with a new perspective.”
If you judge Yakupov by his recent numbers, there might be some merit to that philosophy. Yakupov had more goals (17) than assists (14) for the Oilers and did the same in the KHL (10 goals vs. 8 assists) in 2012-13. His goal-to-assist ratio is almost 1:1 in recent years, so that might make some wonder if he “makes his teammates better.”
(Jeff Carter’s a polarizing player to many, and he provided the most startling example of that disparity with his 26-goal, 7-assist campaign in 2013.)
Really, that’s a viewpoint held largely by nitpickers, though. The Oilers probably won’t be too worried if Yakupov ends up with more goals than assists some seasons, as long as he doesn’t go through too many stretches where he fails to produce either.
(H/T to Kukla’s Korner.)