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Breakthrough coming? Oilers coach raves about Yakupov’s progress

Nail Yakupov

Edmonton Oilers’ Nail Yakupov (64), of Russia, celebrates after scoring a goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in New York. The Oilers won the game 2-1. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)


With patience wearing thin for both the player and his team, this is a crucial “prove-it” season for Nail Yakupov and the Edmonton Oilers.

It’s been a disappointing slog for the first pick of the 2012 NHL Draft (aside from the occasional high point that upsets a good chunk of the hockey world anyway), but one would be foolish to count Yakupov out. He’s three days away from turning 21, after all ... there’s plenty of reason to believe that he can overcome his growing pains.

From the sound of things, Yakupov is impressing the Oilers’ coaching staff with his improved all-around play.

Greater trust from Dallas Eakins could be a big deal on many levels, most obviously in ice time and the opportunities that come with more frequent shifts.

Yakupov averaged 14:19 minutes per night in 2013-14, which was actually slightly below his 14:34 average in his uneven but promising rookie year. His 12:07 minutes of even-strength time per game ranked eighth among Edmonton forwards in 2013-14 and he logged just 37 seconds of shorthanded time all season long.

Those deployment stats point to a player who hadn’t earned his coach’s trust, so increased confidence could be a big deal for Yakupov.

It’s probably a stretch to imagine him climbing up the Selke ranks in 2014-15, yet if Eakins trusts him in a variety of situations, it could make a pretty dramatic difference. Even jumping to, say, 16 minutes per contest could give him a better chance to get into a rhythm and truly feel comfortable on the ice.

(Yakupov shouldn’t hurt for motivation, either, as he enters his first contract year in the NHL.)

The Oilers could be far more formidable if Yakupov turns heads and makes a big breakthrough next season. How do you like his chances?

Follow James O’Brien @cyclelikesedins