Colorado Avalanche: The Curious Case of Nail Yakupov

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 27: Nail Yakupov
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 27: Nail Yakupov /

When the Colorado Avalanche signed Nail Yakupov in the off-season, it was seen as a no lose situation. That may not entirely be the case.

The Colorado Avalanche went into the 2017 offseason after completing an absolutely dreadful season. Joe Sakic and company made changes to the roster, getting younger and faster. Presumably he did this because the clear trend in the NHL is teams are younger and faster, which coincidentally fits in with head coach Jared Bednar’s system.

One of those such moves was to bring in free agent Nail Yakupov. At the time of the signing, I thought this was a decent enough move. There was no need to go out and try to sign a big name free agent, and I also suspect there was not much of a desire for them to come to Colorado.

The Yakupov signing I feel was mostly well received by Avalanche fans. A one year contract at 875,000 dollars was the definition of low risk. If he didn’t work out here in Colorado, he could either be flipped at the deadline or let go to free agency. If he did well, he could be re-signed.

Yakupov started the season off very well. In his first 20 games, he collected 7 goals and 3 assists. He showed the speed and shot he possesses that made him a highly touted pick. The question of whether or not he should have been the 1st overall pick by the Edmonton Oilers back in 2012 may still stand, but what does not is whether or not he possesses NHL talent.

Here’s an example of the speed and shot that made him over a point-per-game player in the OHL with the Sarnia Sting and that got him drafted as high as he was:

It’s a darn good shot. He’s shown he’s not afraid to use that shot either.

Over the next 13 games he hit a bit of a slump, scoring one goal and one assist. It’s not that surprising or upsetting to me. All goal scorers go through slumps, it’s just what happens. The problem I have is he’s been scratched in 6 games and in the 13 games that he’s been in, his ice-time has dropped (most of them below 10 minutes a night).

This is the same problem as he had with the St. Louis Blues and some of the problem he had with the Edmonton Oilers. Of course if a player’s game drops, the coach has to consider giving other players more ice time or even scratching the player.

This is exactly what a player like Yakupov doesn’t need. It seems as though Colorado is a better situation for him to work though his struggles. In Edmonton, he had the weight of the world thrust on his shoulders (as well as fellow 1st overall picks Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins). He was asked to carry that team from the bottom and into the playoffs. It proved too much for him, as he struggled for consistency for a team and fan base that needed the Oilers to win.

In St. Louis, he ran into the problem he had at the end of his tenure with the Oilers. He simply didn’t see enough of the ice, only playing in 40 games and putting up 9 points. Again, it wasn’t as if the head coach could keep playing him while he wasn’t producing. The Blues have perennially been a playoff team, and they needed players who could be counted on to contribute on a nightly. There was no room for Yakupov.

In Colorado, the opportunity seemed to be perfect. The Avs had a lot of turnover on the roster from last season with Sakic, Bednar and company aiming to be younger and faster. Yakupov provided a cheap, low-risk option for more scoring on the wing. That is something the Avalanche have needed for a pretty long time.

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Circumstances have proved to be frustrating for Yakupov. Firstly, the Colorado Avalanche are starting to win. Of course they were always going to win more games than they did last year, but they needed to give the fans hope. They’ve done that so far this season, but Yakupov hasn’t been as big a part of the success as he would’ve hoped.

Another problem is the success of two lines in particular. The Rantanen-MacKinnon-Landeskog line has been outstanding this season and only a fool would break them up. Jared Bednar has also kept the Nieto-Soderberg-Comeau together for the majority of the season, as they’ve had success in their role. That leaves only 6 starting forward spots available. It will do Yakupov no favors playing on a line that does not have strong offensive counter-parts.

My real problem is if you give Yakupov more ice-time, you’re taking more away from other young players. Alexander Kerfoot and J.T. Compher have earned regular spots with their play. Tyson Jost has also been much better as of late. The Colorado Avalanche have more invested in Jost and Compher, and Kerfoot has simply been too good overall to put on the 4th line and only give him 7 minutes of ice-time. If Yakupov isn’t producing, it’s hard to select him for more ice-time than those three in particular.

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What should the Colorado Avalanche do with NailYakupov?

This is a tough spot for the Colorado Avalanche and for Nail Yakupov. He’s shown he has NHL game to provide. The problem is if he doesn’t fit into the line-up, than you can’t really fault Bednar if he benches him. The flip side of that is if he doesn’t play, how can you expect to trade him at the deadline and expect to get anything back for him?

The good news is he’s on that one-year deal so he’s low-risk for whoever trades for him. He’s shown he can put up points if he’s put in an opportunity to succeed. In his final season with Edmonton, he was starting to have success on Connor McDavid’s wing (To be fair, I think my dog could play on Connor McDavid‘s wing and have success).

If it were up to me, I would play Yakupov as much as possible on the 2nd power-play unit. He certainly belongs on the powerplay with his shot. Continue to put him in the line-up on a nightly basis and as hard as possible to show him off. I think he’s got a good chance at making it on a strong team down the middle that needs depth scoring on the wing. A team like the Pittsburgh Penguins makes sense to me.

I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up Nail’s attitude. Throughout all of this, it would be so easy for him to get down on himself and pout. He hasn’t. He’s been nothing but fun, upbeat and positive since he’s come to Colorado. He looks like a guy who simply loves playing hockey. I love that he has that much passion for the game.

Next: Benching & Calling Out Yak Wrong Move

No matter what happens, I hope he finds the right situation. I think he deserves to find a spot in some line-up. I just hope if it’s in Denver, it doesn’t come at the expense of other young players who the Colorado Avalanche are invested in.