It was February 2nd, 2015 during a game in against the New Jersey Devils when Steve Bernier lined up Nail Yakupov during the midway point of the first period.
Yakupov took a good bite out of Bernier's shoulder, but he returned no worse for wear.
After missing on two one-timers in the second period, Yakupov scored a beautiful PPG that ended up being the game winner.
For Yakupov, this hit and subsequent goal may have helped him turn the corner. In the last six games including the New Jersey game, Yakupov has seven points including a two-goal game against the Winnipeg Jets.
That's 35% of his total points on the season in only six games.
The Little Things
Dallas Eakins is one of the people who had the biggest influence on Yakupov after his inaugural season where he showed great promise getting 31 points in 48 games; except Eakins influence wasn't for the better.
Under Eakins, Yakupov was playing on the 3rd line and was asked to play more of a defensive role; A role that he has never played, and one that he struggled mightily with.
Being centered by guys like Mark Arcobello, and Boyd Gordon certainly didn't help Yakupov's offense.
His confidence was dwindling, and he wasn't enjoying the game as he once did.
But that all changed when Todd Nelson and Derek Roy joined the Oilers.
Roy, a veteran of over 700 NHL games has been one of the biggest factors in helping Nail.
"He helps me around all the time," Yakupov said in an article posted on the Oilers website. "We kind of are talking every shift and he just tells me what’s better to do and of course I’m going to listen to that guy. He’s saying the right things. It’s easy to talk to this guy, we can talk about everything. I think that’s very good, I’m really happy with him at centre."
Under Nelson, he has been given some great guidance and given the confidence boost that he has desperately needed.
"I'm coming for you."
Another part of Yakupov's game that has been noticeably better is his own zone play, and Nelson's trust in him there.
Under Eakins, Yakupov's ZSO%Rel was 30.3, while under Nelson his ZSO% Rel is 10.6. As Mike FAIL notes below, this means that Yakupov is starting 20% more of his shifts in the defensive zone, than the offensive zone compared to his teammates.
ZSO% Rel Definition:
ZSO is the "fraction of offensive vs defensive zone starts relative to the team" meaning a higher number usually means more OZ starts while lower numbers indicate more DZ starts.
- Mike FAIL, Matchsticks and Gasoline
While playing along Roy and as of late, Ryan Hamilton, Yakupov has been allowed to have more freedom on the ice as these Veteran Pro Players are able support him a little better.
While his Corsi numbers are actually lower nower under Nelson (47.8%) vs Eakins (52%), the sample sizes for Corsi and ZSO% Rel are small, but I feel that he can continue on a positive track moving forward.
With Yakupov being an RFA at the end of this season, I don't think it is unrealistic to see the Oilers signing him to a 2 year, $2 mil - $2.5 mil deal bridge deal to allow us to see what we truly have in him.
The Nelson Factor, pt. 2
For Yak, the biggest component for him moving forward will be continuing to find his way in the NHL and right now, another coaching change is the last thing he needs.
Although the small sample size, many people feel that Nelson is exactly what Nail Yakupov needs at this point in his career.
@Loweded Simply put: confidence. I attribute this to Nelson's coaching.— Rascal Gas (@rascalgas) February 19, 2015
While it is still early to name names as we haven't seen who will get fired from their respective clubs, Todd Nelson has done a fantastic job with the group of players that has been given to him. Our AHL Calvary has come up strong which only goes to show the positive effect that he has had on the organization as a whole.
It is fair to say that Todd Nelson is well on his way to earning the full time role of coaching the Edmonton Oilers, and Nail Yakupov is showing he deserves to stay.