Colorado Avalanche: Slotting Nail Yakupov into the Lineup

EDMONTON, AB - FEBRUARY 20: Nail Yakupov
EDMONTON, AB - FEBRUARY 20: Nail Yakupov /

Though a controversial signing by the Colorado Avalanche, Nail Yakupov could slot well into the team’s lineup.

On the face of it, the Colorado Avalanche’s acquisition of winger Nail Yakupov is typical of the team. Yakupov is a player who just needs that right fit to unlock his potential.

Sounds like Mikhail Grigorenko. And Jordan Caron. At least he’s not a star past his prime like Jarome Iginla or Brad Stuart.

As is well-known by now, Nail Yakupov was a first-overall draft pick for the Edmonton Oilers, one of many on a truly dreadful team. In four years with the Oilers he played under four different coaches. He then got traded to the St. Louis Blues to work with two more coaches.

Yakupov is just 23 years old. That’s a lot of coaches in a short span of time.

Well, the Colorado Avalanche love to give players another chance. Yakupov has a cheap ($875,000), one-year “show me” contract. This season with the Avs is largely considered his last chance at making it in the NHL.

Well, we’ve got ourselves Nail Yakupov. Let’s see where he slots into the lineup.

Nail Yakupov Playing Style

Nail Yakupov is Russian-born and trained. That tells you a lot about his skating. Russians are known for being power skaters — both speedy and strong.

Here’s one description of Yakupov’s playing style:

Well, being chased by bees would make a player skate faster. Watching the video below, I don’t really see the bees thing. However, you can see the hulking power skating Russian style I was talking about. (You’ll see it a lot in defenseman Andrei Miranov next season.)

Anyway, part of the reason Yakupov went first-overall in 2012 is that he’s a great sniper. While his playmaking game can be something of a weakness, he’s a constant scoring threat from his natural wing position.

Andi Duroux of BSN Avalanche did an excellent job of breaking down Yakupov’s playing style using advanced stats. You all know fancy stats aren’t my favorite, but I will share some observations Duroux came up with:

  • Yakupov’s relative Corsi has been steadily improving throughout his career, meaning he’s creating more scoring chances and limiting opponents’.
  • Yakupov loves to drive the net. However, as a sniper, he’s actually more accurate from farther away.
  • Yakupov isn’t a player who makes his teammates significantly better or worse.

That’s it for fancy stats. A stat that I like to look at is turnover ratio. Last season, Nail Yakupov had a +8 turnover ratio, meaning he took the puck away more often than he gave it away. Unfortunately, in previous seasons he was always in the negative.

Anyway, Yakupov is a speedy but inconsistent sniper — just the Colorado Avalanche’s type. Let’s see where he fits.

Nail Yakupov in the Colorado Avalanche Lineup

When the Avalanche signed Yakupov in free agency, GM Joe Sakic said of him:

"“Nail is a young, skilled winger who will add depth to our lineup. We look forward to seeing him at training camp.”"

However, according to Yakupov’s agent, Igor Larianov (A former Red Wing, he was front and center during the thick of the rivalry), Sakic said he considers Yakupov a top-six winger.

More from Mile High Sticking

Well, Colorado only has a sure-thing top-four: Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. Those last two spots are up for grabs.

Now, line combinations won’t even begin to get set for months yet — if ever as Jared Bednar loves to mix lines up mid-period. However, if I had to draft a top-six line for Yakupov right now, I’d put him with Matt Duchene as center and Sven Andrighetto as their left wing.

That’s a smallish line — Duchene and Yakupov are the same size at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds with Andrighetto an inch shorter and few pounds lighter. However, it’s characterized by dynamic skating.

Matt Duchene is both a playmaker and a finisher. He definitely elevates his teammates’ play. Andrighetto is very versatile and has excellent hockey sense. All three display an excellent work ethic.

Nail Yakupov once said the following about linemates:

"“I’d really enjoy to stay with one guy a long time. That was how it was with Derek [Roy]. But I can’t pick my center. We [Edmonton] have lots of centers, all good.”"

Well, Duchene has never said it, but he plays best when he consistently plays with the same linemates.

The above configuration would also give the Colorado Avalanche a powerful top line of Nathan MacKinnon centering Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. That’s downright respectable.

If Yakupov doesn’t make top-six, I’d like to see Colin Wilson become his center. He’s a big, solid player with versatility and maturity — similar in some ways to Derek Roy. On the left, either Matthew Nieto or J.T. Compher would be a good  complement.

Next: What to Expect from Nail Yakupov

That said, for both the Colorado Avalanche’s and Nail Yakupov’s sake, I hope he makes top-six. I hope he and Matt Duchene find mutual chemistry. Maybe they both can find a little redemption next season.