Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Let the kid heal and learn

There is no question Edmonton Oilers forward Nail Yakupov has had himself a sophomore season to forget. As if his boxcar numbers of 11 goals and 13 assists in 63 games played with a league worst -33 plus/minus rating wasn’t bad enough, apparently the former first overall pick has been playing on a fractured ankle since taking a shot off his skate back on February 27th against the Minnesota Wild.

While the talented Russian has missed the Oilers last three games with what was first thought to be a “sore” ankle, he had played in Edmonton’s previous seven after missing a game against the Calgary Flames on March 1st. However, according to Dallas Eakins’ pre-game presser for tonight’s game against the San Jose Sharks, Yakupov has a “fracture” in his ankle and is likely expected to get back on the ice later in the week.

Now while this was the first any of us had heard about this so-called fracture, no one should be overly surprised. It’s not uncommon for such an injury to take a couple of weeks to rear its head ugly head and that is exactly what has occurred in this instance. It’s definitely a tough break for the kid but one that could be a blessing in disguise.

Instead of rushing the former Sarnia Sting standout back into the lineup perhaps shutting him down for the remainder of the year would be the smart thing to do. With #64’s year having gone as bad as it has and his game needing more than a tad of fine tuning, would using the final few weeks of their schedule as a teaching tool for the twenty year old not be a good idea?

It’s one thing to put a guy in the press box for playing poorly and expect him to take something positive from it but it’s quite another to have him watch and learn while he is unable to play due to injury. Would it be too much to ask to have one of these coaches take Nail under their wing for the final ten games of the season and sit up with the kid in the press box and do a little one-on-one coaching?

In my mind, the logical choice would be Keith Acton. While some consider the first year Oilers coach to be part of the “old boy’s club”, Acton was handpicked by Eakins to be part of his staff and is all but guaranteed to be back with the head coach in 2014-15. Also the fact the now fifty-five year old was always looked upon as hard working two-way player who found a way to chip in offensively for much of his fourteen year NHL career, surely can’t hurt. Players tend to relate to guys who see the game the same way they do and Acton is that guy on this coaching staff.

Let’s not forget that Acton was a 100 point player in junior and in the American Hockey League and did put up an 88 point season with the Montreal Canadiens during the 1981-82 campaign. The guy clearly knows a thing or two about offensive hockey but also knows how to play a responsible “200 foot” game, which is exactly what they trying to get Yakupov to do.

From an organizational standpoint, if an associate coach can help one of your core players find his way as an NHL player and prepare him for next season, is it not worth doing? Considering how poorly the Edmonton Oilers have done in the standings this season, my guess is they can continue on their current path with or without Keith Acton behind the bench for the final few weeks of the season.

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