Speaking on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon, Igor Larionov said Yakupov, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, had no problems with the city of Edmonton. He just hasn’t been able to find the correct role on the team.
“I’m trying to help this young man to be in the right place and the right players for the last four years,” Larionov said. “He loves the city of Edmonton and loves the fans and obviously he would like to stay there but at some point he would like a fresh start and some fresh air to go on.”
On Sunday, the Russian publication Sport-Express published a story where Yakupov said he requested a trade from the Oilers. In the interview Yakupov noted how he had played well with Connor McDavid as his center early in the year when some of Edmonton’s wingers were injured.
After they became healthy, he moved to the Oilers’ bottom-six forwards and has seen his production drop. Larionov pointed to how his client meshed best with McDavid and how Yakupov needs a solid puck-distributing pivot. Yakupov’s career high for goals was 17, set in 48 games during the 2012-13 season. He has six goals in 56 games this year.
“He needs to be guided by a skilled center so that’s very important to a young player to play with somebody who can deliver the puck and use his strengths,” Larionov said.
Larionov continued to harp on how Yakupov has been coached by five different people during his time with the Oilers and how that hurt Yakupov’s development.
“Five coaches and all different ideas. For the young man, it’s a little bit too much,” Larionov said.
Larionov was asked if the relationship between the Oilers and Yakupov could be salvaged.
“He loves to be there. He likes to train, he likes to be in the city. He likes to go in the different places, he likes to spend time with the kids in Edmonton with charity work in the city,” Larionov said. “He likes to be there. But I want him to be appreciated with what he’s been doing. That’s my point. For him, and he would like to stay there for many, many years. That was the goal for him – to stay. “
Yakupov’s fit with Edmonton has been questioned since the team decided to take him in the draft over defenseman Ryan Murray. The Oilers were heavy on forwards and light on defenseman and didn’t seem to need another skilled player up front. In a recent column, Sportsnet’s Mark Spector notes that the team’s scouts preferred Murray but the team’s management took Yakupov.
The decision was borne out of a high level, inner-circle meeting between the GM, Lowe, MacTavish and Katz. Somehow, that group decided that, in a fairly weak draft the sexiest pick — the only possible home run— was Yakupov, who was coming off a 101-point season in Sarnia as a 17-year-old.
The rap on Yakupov involves that he’s not consistent without the puck, which could go beyond the center problem. The Edmonton Journal discussed some of his issues with the team.
He’s always been an odd player for the Oilers, able to flash amazing skill, but often seemingly too nervous and herky jerky on the ice to have the success on the attack needed to nail down a spot on one of the top lines. He played strong hockey at times, especially with Derek Roy and on McDavid’s wing, but wasn’t able to muster much this year on a line with Mark Letestu. If he gets placed with the right coach and on a team that stresses the attack, there’s still a chance that the player we’ve all seen in spurts will be the player Yakupov’s new team gets all of the time.
Chiarelli has said he could make moves at some point to alter the team’s core, but he’s also said he wants to see how his wingers perform with all the team’s centers healthy. McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have both missed prolonged periods of time with injury.
Regardless, Yakupov, who has one year at $2.5 million left on his contract, could be one of the more intriguing names available this offseason.
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