Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Sports.ru’s Igor Eronko reported early Monday morning that Nail Yakupov could leave the Edmonton Oilers and return to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League. The source: Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk’s head coach Vladimir Krikunov.

It’s worth noting that Yakupov played for Neftekhimik prior to joining the Oilers. His father, Rail, was formerly a coach and executive with the team, which has been around since the 1960′s.

If Yakupov were to defect to the KHL, it would be a tremendous blow to the already-deteriorating reputation Russians have earned in North America over the last few years. With the recent departures of guys like Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Radulov, it’s become increasingly difficult to trust Russian players will remain loyal to the NHL teams that draft them.

If a young, electric star like Yakupov were to follow in Kovalchuk’s footsteps in his early 20′s, while still on his entry level contract, it could have long-term effects on how GMs approach Russian prospects.

Yakupov would undoubtedly be welcomed as a national hero if he were to bolt from Edmonton for the KHL. It goes without saying that he would make a lot more money, as well.

Of course, this scenario is highly unlikely to occur — at least for now. Virtually every Russian in the NHL has the opportunity to return to the Motherland, and the temptation to do so probably crosses their minds on a regular basis. That said, this has to be a little unsettling for Oilers fans.

Yakupov has yet to register a point in four games played with Edmonton thus far in 2013-14. He was a healthy scratch on Saturday when his team took on the Maple Leafs, and he was clearly upset about being left out of the lineup.

“I’m not happy about it. I just want to play every game,” Yakupov told the Edmonton Journal.

“I’m going to play my game … I’m not going to change but maybe play better without the puck, or forecheck more, but I love playing with the puck. I really don’t like skating all the time, and forechecking, and hitting somebody every shift. I don’t think it’s my game.”

The Oilers will take on the Washington Capitals tonight. Whether or not Yakupov will play has yet to be reported.

About The Author

Andrew Hirsh is a graduate of Elon University and is entering his fourth year as a credentialed NHL writer. He founded SunbeltHockey.com in 2012 and serves as the site's managing editor. Andrew can be reached via email at ahirsh3@gmail.com.

12 comments
Esbee92
Esbee92

@andrewhirsh Can't figure this one out. And he better stop whining about being a scratch!

Section_328
Section_328

Any word as to if it's a money issue or a general unhappiness issue with Yak being in Edmonton? 

andrewhirsh
andrewhirsh

@Esbee92 Him and Eakins are probably going to clash a lot. I don't see him going to the KHL though.

Esbee92
Esbee92

@andrewhirsh that whole club is puzzling to me right now. Just don't seem to be gelling under new leadership. Games I have seen are a mess.

Esbee92
Esbee92

@andrewhirsh I hope not. That's ridiculous to think he would jump ship this early.

Esbee92
Esbee92

@andrewhirsh They all just look totally out of sorts. I was yelling at my tv watching them "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" last time I watched.

andrewhirsh
andrewhirsh

@Esbee92 Could just be an adjustment period, but there could be serious problems. Too early to tell, I guess.

andrewhirsh
andrewhirsh

@Esbee92 They were one of the most free-flowing teams in the league last year and now have a coach who wants the opposite.