One of the main storylines heading into a busy Saturday of NHL action was the fact that the Edmonton Oilers would make second year forward Nail Yakupov a healthy scratch for their tilt against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It marked the first game in his career that Yakupov had missed.
Yakupov came on strong down the stretch last season. He didn’t do enough to work his way into the Calder Trophy discussion, but it wouldn’t have been surprising if his name was in the mix with the trio of finalists. He posted 31 points in 48 games as a rookie during the 2013 season.
This season hasn’t gotten off to the greatest of starts for the Russian product, and that’s probably putting it lightly. Yakupov had been a ghost on the ice for the Oilers through their first four games of the season. He didn’t notch a single point in any of those games and had posted a minus-3 rating, with the Oilers winning only one of those games.
To a certain extent you could understand why Dallas Eakins might be trying to send Yakupov a message by scratching him. He’s been pretty vocal about the fact that he was not impressed with the play of his sophomore forward, particularly in their 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens late last week.
Eakins rationalized the move by saying that giving Yakupov a night off to watch and gather his thoughts should prove beneficial. He cited his work ethic as the reason that he’d be able to rebound nicely. At the same time, though, it’s difficult to send that type of message after only four games into a new season.
It’ll be interesting to see if this pays off for Eakins and the Oilers. Taking a player of Yakupov’s skill set out of your lineup as a healthy scratch is a risky endeavor. If it pays off, and Yakupov gets it together, then Eakins looks like a genius. For Yakupov, it may just be a matter of gaining some traction and finding his rhythm, something that the scratch could prevent. Either way, we’ll see the results of his night off in the near future.