Life in Edmonton hasn’t been easy on winger Nail Yakupov over the past few seasons, and he can’t even catch a break at home in Russia.
Following Russia’s 7-2 thumping of Team USA in the bronze medal game at the World Championship, Russian coach Oleg Znarok let it be known that Yakupov’s absence from the team didn’t have any impact on the nation’s inability to capture its first gold medal at the tournament since 2014. In fact, Znarok said the lack of Yakupov on the Russian roster was beneficial to the team, calling it “addition by subtraction,” according to Slava Malamud.
That’s an unpleasant way for a national team coach to describe one of his potential players and almost assuredly means Yakupov won’t be suiting up for any of Znarok’s teams in the future, which includes the upcoming World Cup.
The situation between Znarok and Yakupov had been bubbling since the 22-year-old was left off the team. Malamud had reported there was a public blowup between Znarok and Yakupov after he wasn’t named to the squad, and Yakupov said the claims he was fighting an injury were “bogus.” Znarok fired back saying Yakupov was denying his injuries in order to facilitate a new contract or trade, though Yakupov said he was cleared by NHL doctors to play at the World Championship.
Maybe Yakupov’s absence from the team shouldn’t have been too surprising, though. Since entering the NHL in 2012-13, Yakupov hasn’t played a single international contest for his home country, and all of Yakupov’s international experience comes from before he set foot on NHL ice.
Yakupov played for Russia at the U16 level, suited up at the U18 World Junior Championship and was twice a member of Russian’s U20 World Junior team, including at the 2013 tournament ahead of the lockout-shortened season. The captain of that team, Yakupov helped Russia to a bronze medal and contributed three goals and eight points in seven games. Those were his last games for the Russia on a major international stage.
Yakupov joined the Oilers following that tournament and proceeded to post 17 goals and 31 points in 48 games during a successful rookie season, but his play has fallen off since. His sophomore campaign saw him notch just 11 goals and 24 points and he followed that up with 14 goals and 33 points in his third season in the NHL. He took a step back this past season scoring only eight goals and 23 points in 60 games.
For much of the past two campaigns, Yakupov has been the center of trade speculation in Edmonton, and a trade could still be a possibility for Yakupov this off-season. It doesn’t seem Yakupov playing for Russia at the World Cup will be, though, and that likely goes for any tournament where Znarok is behind Russia’s bench.