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TENCER: Yakupov slump no big deal

by Dan Tencer / Edmonton Oilers
photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC

Talk about much ado about nothing. A 20-year-old player has gone 6 games without a goal and has watched from the press box a couple of times?


Or not.

The amount of pressure that gets put on these young players is never more apparent than when one of them slumps. Heck, I recall the crazy media scrums with Taylor Hall in his rookie season when he opened his career with 7 goalless games before *finally* scoring in Columbus. It was madness, pure madness, that we shone the spotlight on that every day. But, that's how it works. Want to be 1st overall? Buckle up.

Nail Yakupov is 20 and has played only slightly more than half of a full season worth of games in the NHL. He's started his second season without scoring in his first 6 games, apparently wiping all memories that he led the team in goal scoring last year. That a player, who has yet to play a full NHL season, might be a bit "out of sorts" as Dallas Eakins once put it, is totally understandable.

The NHL game is a demanding one, particularly as it relates to defensive effort and positioning for a player that wasn't really used to playing very much without the puck because of his dominance at previous levels. Frankly, Yakupov isn't the only one of the young Oilers that might be a bit hit and miss in his adjustments to the way Dallas Eakins wants things done. The spotlight hits him, though, because he isn't producing.

It's not like he isn't getting looks, though. He's averaging more than 2 shots per game, and that includes having ice time limited in various stretches and spending some time alongside players who might be fairly regarded as less offensively capable than what Yakupov might be ideally fitted to. The puck hasn't gone for him yet, but it will.

Simply put, I just don't see the "uncertainty" that some mainstream pundits are riffing about. It's hyperbole, or panic, or whatever you want to call it. The team has struggled to earn results and one of their blue chip young players is in a slump, so it makes for a sexy headline.

Curiously, I haven't read anywhere that a team probably wouldn't trade their backup goaltender for Claude Giroux, who hasn't scored on a Philadelphia team that also has 1 win in 8 games. Now, Giroux has a track record of success and deserves a break, of course. In the same vein, I think it's incredibly shortsighted to be drawing any conclusions about the performance or potential of a young player who's still in his first full season worth of games.

Nail Yakupov has a world class shot, inarguably one of the best one-timers in the league. He's got excellent quickness and plays with a bulldogish style, not shying away from contact or confrontation. Yes, his game away from the puck needs some work. Ditto for defensive awareness and understanding of how critical it is.

His talent, though he hasn't scored in 6 games, has not evaporated. He's in a slump, and that happens to scorers sometimes. Particularly young ones. If there are people out there who believe that Yakupov's future is uncertain, I'm willing to take bets.
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