Nail Yakupov seems to be getting it. The Edmonton Oilers winger is realizing the key to a good offensive game is to spend as little time in the defensive zone as possible. Playing with two of the team’s best players doesn’t hurt either. “I think the improvements are slow and steady,” said Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins. “I think he fully understands where he needs to go with his game to be a real complete player, a player that we can trust across the whole ice. He’s taken that to heart. “We have to realize this is a guy that is of very little experience. We’ve been patient with him, he’s buying in. But the thing that I see lately, is maybe a little bit more fire in his game.” Yakupov is aware of the opportunity presented to him, skating on a line with Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Oilers winger had a strong outing against the New York Rangers on Thursdsay, scoring the game winner, then looked good Friday night against the New Jersey Devils. Yakupov set up Hall in the first period for the Oilers opening goal against the Devils. “He’s driving his legs again, he’s excited to have the puck and he’s showing more passion when we don’t have it,” Eakins said. “When we shuffled those lines up we were looking for maybe a little different look to try to generate some offense and I thought his line were all good (Thursday) night.” It’s been a trying season for Yakupov, shuffled between the bottom two lines for a majority of the year. The first-overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft expressed some frustration at the beginning of the year the way he was being utilized. Eakins was stressing the defensive side of the game, where all Yakupov wanted to do was score goals. “The one thing I found even as a player and more importantly as a coach, is when you go to offensive-minded players and start talking about defence, they think you’re trying to take something away from them,” said Eakins. “You’re actually trying to give them a gift. When we don’t have the puck we want to get it back as fast as we can, so they can have the puck and use their skill. Our guys are understanding that and Nail is firmly getting the message and taking it to heart.” Yakupov has been putting more onus on the defensive side of his game, which is perhaps the hardest thing to teach a young goal scorer. In junior, he didn’t have to worry about his own end.
Edmonton Oilers forward Nail Yakupov using defence to gain more offence
Edmonton Sun | Feb 8