a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Tuesday, 17 April 2012

04/17/12 Hemmer and Nail

Assuming that something wacky doesn't happen at the draft in June, the Oilers will be putting the finishing touches on the second line by drafting Nail Yakupov. Aside from the obvious symmetry of having two players on a line with names like Hemmer and Nail, this combination could make sense offensively as well.

It seems to have been written in the stars that Taylor Hall would play with Jordan Eberle. The two were linemates at the WJC, and the Oilers dropped all the way to 30th to get Hall that same year. Ironically, the Oilers had been searching for a left winger to play with Hemsky ever since Ryan Smyth left, but by the time Hall came onto the scene Eberle was the right winger of the future. In Yakupov, the Oilers might have Hemsky's wingman.

Fans have been begging Hemsky to shoot more virtually from the moment he first pulled on the jersey, but now he may not have to. Yakupov is a pure goal-scorer, and a linemate like Hemsky could be just what he needs to transition smoothly to the NHL. It will all depend on how the Oilers use them.

Tom Renney gave Hemsky some difficult assignments this year, so the workload will have to even out a little if the Oilers are going to use Yakupov with #83. Fortunately for the Oilers, Taylor Hall is already capable of holding his own, and one would hope that being in his third NHL season would mean the same for Eberle. Shawn Horcoff will still (always) be thrown to the wolves for the sake of his teammates, and if Ryan Smyth is back he should be as well. We won't know how capable Yakupov is until he gets here, but the state of the 2012-13 team is such that the Oilers shouldn't have to shelter the young Russian in the extreme.

That opens the door for Yakupov on the second line. Though he has played right wing in Sarnia, he should still be young enough not to be too set in his ways, and skilled enough to transition to a slightly different position. Yakupov is a left handed shot, just like natural left wingers Hall, Paajarvi, Omark, Hartikainen and Smyth. One potential problem with playing the left side is that one-timers will have to come across his body before reaching his stick, but there's no rule while playing the wing that says he can't roam a little when he's on the ice.

This kid is an absolute force out there, and he's all over the ice. And that was his rookie season with Sarnia. Notably, he scored from virtually everywhere around the net and a few times attacked from the left side. Note also the early part of the video where Yakupov lays some heavy hits. The Oilers need a forward in their top six who's not only big, but who plays big. Yakupov fits the latter bill better than a bigger man like, for example, Dustin Penner. This is Junior hockey, which is a far cry from the NHL, but the tools are all in place.

One of the main criticisms of Yakupov is that he doesn't use his linemates enough, which is the reason that Hemsky is a better fit than Eberle or Hall would be as his wingers. In fact, a line with two pass-first players in Hemsky and Gagner might be the best possible combination for Nail. Those two are also experienced enough to help carry the young man as he learns the NHL game, assuming that he needs to be carried at all. With any luck, their complimentary styles of play will make up for positional imbalance.

In the very near future, it's possible that the Oilers will have one of the most potent top-six groups in the Western Conference. If Yakupov and Hemsky click, watch out.

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