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Obviously Yakupov Should Play With McDavid

August 16, 2016, 3:04 PM ET [383 Comments]
Matt Henderson
Edmonton Oilers Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
This morning, in an effort to take Twitter in a different direction, the topic thrown out there was what should the Oilers do with Nail Yakupov. I’m all for this discussion because I am the last living Pro-Yak Enthusiast still writing about the Oilers. I cheer for the kid actively and I still believe he has a future contributing offensively in the NHL. Yak City, here we come!

Let’s start with a disclaimer. I don’t think Nail Yakupov is better than your favourite player…unless your favourite player is Mark Letestu then yes I believe Nail Yakupov is better than your favourite player. I know the kid has flaws in his game and I’m well aware that since his rookie season (which featured very high shooting percentages) that his point totals have been underwhelming. Still, we’re talking about a player who has shown the ability to play with skill but has never been given a shot to do that on an ongoing basis. If he can be effective somewhere on the roster then the Oilers need to put him there.

I’m all on-board with playing Nail Yakupov with Connor McDavid and that’s still a radical idea when the narrative on Yak is that he’s essentially worthless. I mean, how many times have we been told that Chiarelli couldn’t even get a 3rd rounder for the kid? This is the part where I get bombarded with two comments when I talk about Yakupov with people:

1) Yakupov is awful defensively
2) Why play Yakupov with a guy like McDavid when Eberle is better?

I’ll try to address these complaints in turn.

Yak is awful in his own end!

Yakupov definitely has a reputation as a poor defensive player. There is no questioning that. The problem with reputations on young players is that they’re given to kids who are learning the game at the professional level and they stick even as the player grows.

Nail Yakupov has had a progressively better Shot Attempt percentage every year he has been in the league. It looks like this:

2012-2013 42.5% CF
2013-2014 44.9% CF
2014-2015 46.4% CF
2015-2016 49.4% CF

A similar story gets told with Goals Against, Expected Goals Against, and Shot Attempts Relative to Teammates. In terms of his fancies, last year indicated that his reputation was not accurately describing what we saw on the ice. The results were better than the story being told. Is Yakupov weak defensively? Well it isn’t his strength but last year the Oilers weren’t getting killed when he was on the ice.

I would suggest that maybe he isn’t as awful as we have been lead to believe.

But still, why play him with Connor McDavid when Jordan Eberle is better?

I’m not going to tell you that Yakupov is better than Jordan Eberle. Not when Eberle is a bonafide 60 point winger in the NHL, a former All-Star, and a key contributor to Edmonton’s offensive attack. Jordan Eberle is a very good hockey player. Nail Yakupov is not a 60 point guy. He’s simply not. However, that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t play on a line with Lucic and McDavid.

When we think of line combinations, we shouldn’t be overly concerned with WHO is getting the points so much as we should be focused more on THAT they are getting the points. We want goals to go in the attacking net and stay out of the defending one. That’s the only aspect that the coach needs to reconcile himself with at the end of the day. Every stat we track leads back towards finding out the most efficient ways to score or prevent goals.

When the team iced Connor McDavid with Jordan Eberle, the Oilers scored 3.79 Goals For per 60 minutes and allowed 3.29 Goals Against per 60 minutes. That’s a Goals For percentage of 53.5%. They had a shot attempt ratio of 52.2% at the same time. So the Oilers, when they loaded up the talent the way they did, kept control of the puck and scored more frequently than the other team. This is good.

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.

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.

Asset Management?

So that’s my reasoning behind playing Yak on the top line. In terms of scoring efficiency, it just makes sense. But it also leads to another event that’s looming overhead for every NHL club: The Expansion Draft.

The NHL Expansion draft is coming. Someone is going to get exposed and at this point you have to think the Oilers are going to protect a fair number of guys before they get to Yakupov. That’s fair. I get it. So, if that’s the case and Yak is going to get exposed then the Oilers should be pumping his value as much as humanly possible.

If Nail Yakupov works well with McDavid, the team doesn’t suffer for it, and he can gain value then why not do this to make your asset more valuable. Instead of losing him for nothing in the expansion draft then why not make him worth something before the trade deadline? At this point it’s all about managing this asset. They’ve done a lot of damage keeping him with 4th line centers and suppressing his opportunities to play with talent. That’s done. It cant be changed. It doesn’t mean they have to throw this player away when better options are available.

Follow me on Twitter @Archaeologuy
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