The final game in the Russia-Canada WJ tune up goes tonight in Victoria. Nail Yakupov (5, 2-2-4) is taking a little heat for his on ice performance, but I think that’s more sour grapes from Eastern media than reality. The fact is that Yakupov’s KHL performance is so impressive that anything he did in this exhibition would be gravy. Its no doubt been a long series for him–he’s been a target in each of the 5 games played and it’ll be the same tonight–so I’d give him a pass no matter the result tonight.
Which brings me to tonight’s sermon. There has long been a bias about Russian players among Canadian fans; I am not saying everyone, just saying some people would prefer a WHL kid or maybe someone from Sudbury. Nail Yakupov hasn’t backed down from anything I’ve seen, and his on ice weaknesses–and they are there–are more the result of youth than anything else. Nail Yakupov has been the best or second best player on every sheet of ice he’s stepped onto since childhood, and that is going to change. He’ll need to adjust, and we should give him time. I’ve sat in the stands at Northlands and heard the hometown booing their own and it has never made any sense to me. I suspect things will be different with Nail Yakupov–he’s an elite talent and a quick study.
Still, Nail Yakupov is 19 years old. He’s going to make mistakes, lack consistency and look like less than a million at times–that happens, folks. It isn’t because he’s Russian, its because he’s 19. Give him time with the Oilers coaching staff, and the things you might be worried about will be addressed and the shine of this new dime will be bright again.
A short 6 game series is not the best way to see Nail Yakupov. We’ll get to enjoy him under NHL lights soon, and lets make him feel welcome.