Coach Dallas Eakins made that clear to Yakupov and the media recently after trade rumors surfaced, and general manager Craig MacTavish reiterated that Tuesday after Yakupov’s agent, Hall of Famer Igor Larionov, told ESPN.com Yakupov would be willing to move to any team if the Oilers were unhappy with him.
“There’s nothing changed from our perspective on Yak,” MacTavish said after the NHL GMs meeting at the league office in Toronto. “The only thing I will say is that adversity, in my mind, is something that helps spur development. Yak’s facing a little bit of adversity, but there aren’t too many players of that age that haven’t. That’s really all I have to say about it.”
Yakupov is 20. He was the first overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft, and he put up 17 goals and 31 points in 48 games as a rookie last season under coach Ralph Krueger – with 11 of those goals in 14 games in April. But he has clashed with his new coach and has only two goals and four points in 17 games this season. Eakins has even made him a healthy scratch.
Larionov plans to travel to Edmonton this week to watch a couple of games, and he hopes to meet with Eakins.
“Let the kid play, enjoy the game,” Larionov told ESPN.com. “He’s a hard-working kid. He’s not lazy. He’s got to be part of that team. You have to understand he’s only 20 years old, he needs some support. He’s a goal-scorer. You’ve got to understand that and let the kid develop and play.”
Does Larionov have a point at all, in terms of Yakupov needing to play more to develop?
“I think Yak’s been treated very fairly since he’s been in our organization,” MacTavish told a large group of reporters, obviously annoyed. “We like Yak. I’ve said that many times. It’s a much bigger story for you people, and it’s becoming a bit of a distraction for us right now because we’re having to answer these questions.
‘But we feel the same way about Yak as the day we drafted him. He’s a dynamic player that’s going to need time to develop and get to the level that we all expect him to get to. Is it a smooth line from where he is now to what he’s going to become as a player? No. There’s going to be ups and downs along the way, and anybody who’s been in the game for any length of time will tell you that is the case.
“There are very few players that are going to be like Sidney Crosby and get to the [NHL] and be a star immediately when they get to the [league], and this is just part of that development. Anybody with any common sense would tell you the same thing, so let’s all relax.”