There are sophomore slumps, there are complete second-year implosions.
Thus far Nail Yakupov falls into the latter category. Many experts figured he was destined for a breakdout season following his strong rookie campaign.
Last season he scored 17 goals – including six during a three-game span --- added 14 assists during the 48-game season. This season he had no points heading into Tuesday night’s game and became a “healthy scratch” for the first two times in his career.
“He's going to be an excellent player in this league, but rather than let this keep going on and the struggle become deeper and deeper, I thought it was time to hit the reset button, get him out of the lineup, let him watch a game,” Oilers coach Dallas Eakins explained to the Edmonton media.
“I've always found it's a great way to get a new perspective on the game when you're struggling. But that kid has such a passion and a work ethic that he'll rebound quickly.”
The Oilers are a mess. A coaching change did not change that, so perhaps a roster shake-up is the next step. Yakupov and pricey teammate Ales Hemsky have been subject to early season trade rumors.
Yakupov’s struggle triggered the inevitable speculation that he could turn tail and head back to the KHL. His father Rail has coached and managed in that the league and he keeps close tabs on his son’s development (or lack thereof) in Edmonton.
So far that speculation has been thoroughly dismissed by those in the know, but this scenario bears watching. His first game back to action is against the mighty Penguins.
Will he answer the challenge or fall deeper into his funk?