Nail Yakupov drama rolls on: 'I just want to play,' GM calls it distraction

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com

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Just when it looked like the circus around former Oilers No. 1 overall draft pick Nail Yakupov was dying down, his agent Igor Larionov relit the fire on Monday night.

Larionov told Craig Custance of ESPN that he had plans to go to Edmonton and visit with the Oilers brass about Yakupov's role, specifically how small it is and the fact that it is diminishing. He also said that if the Oilers weren't happy with Yakupov, they would be open to a trade.

Of course that meant that on Tuesday the drama hit a new high. Yakupov was ambushed by media after Oilers practice on Tuesday and didn't really deny what his agent had to say. The kid just wants to play.

"I know that [Larionov is] coming and we've got to do something because I don't see any trust in me now," Yakupov said. "I'm playing lower and lower minutes and I just want to help my team win every game and try to do something. I'm trying to shoot, trying to skate, trying to hit but I haven't had that much chance to do that. It's been very hard to watch the game from the bench when my teammates are fighting for pucks or points because I know I can do the same thing.

"I just want to play," Yakupov continued. "I want to help and I want to have fun. It's a simple thing. I want to play hockey."

At the same time, Yakupov shot down any suggestions of him demanding a trade, saying he would like to be in Edmonton and he likes it there, he just wants to play more. In the last three games he has seen his time on ice dip below 12 minutes per.

Regardless, the soap opera remains in full force. Yakupov might still be shooting down the trade angles but he's clearly not pleased and his agent is indeed coming to talk to the Oilers about what's going on. That's not a good sign at all for the future of the relationship between the organization and their 20-year-old potential star.

Meanwhile at the GM meetings in Toronto, Oilers boss Craig MacTavish wasn't pleased about the whole story and how it's being "manufactured" by the media (nevermind that it was Yakupov's agent speaking on the record). He said it's been tough for the Oilers who are already dealing with issues. From Stephen Whyno of the Canadian Press:

"I think Yak's been treated very fairly since he's been in our organization," he said. "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.

"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 that's been in the game for any length of time will tell you that that is the case."

Right now the trade talk continues to be shot down everywhere you turn but at this point it's getting harder and harder to see how this situation turns out with the two sides being happy and their relationship moving forward together. It won't happen now but unless things take a drastic turn for the better soon, the trade rumors will surely pick back up.

In other words: sorry Craig, the distraction isn't likely to go away anytime soon.

 
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