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Is Oilers Rookie Nail Yakupov Putting a Target on His Back Early in 2013 Season?

CALGARY, CANADA - JANUARY 26: Nail Yakupov #64 of the Edmonton Oilers skates in first period play against the Calgary Flames in NHL action on January 26, 2013 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Mike Ridewood/Getty Images)
Mike Ridewood/Getty Images
Nicholas GossCorrespondent IJanuary 31, 2013

There's rarely a dull moment when Edmonton Oilers rookie forward Nail Yakupov is on the ice, and through the first six games of his NHL career, he has not been shy about expressing a lot of emotion after scoring important goals.

The first overall pick in the 2012 draft caused quite a debate last week with his Theo Fleury-type celebration after sending last Thursday's Oilers vs. Los Angeles Kings game to overtime, which Edmonton won.

It was an excessive celebration that he took way too far, especially when you consider it was just an early regular-season matchup, and the goal did not win the game.

On Wednesday night against the Phoenix Coyotes, Yakupov scored a nice goal to win the game in overtime for the Oilers and jumped around a bit, but he didn't do anything flamboyant.

He called his teammates over to join him in celebrating and appeared to be saying some words, but it didn't look like he was chirping the Coyotes.

Even though it was a rather subdued celebration, veteran Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris was angered by Yakupov's actions following the winning goal—or by someone else on the Oilers saying something to him.

This could be a case of the Coyotes being sore losers again (remember the end of last year's Western Conference Finals?), but Yakupov has definitely ruffled some feathers with his late-game celebrations after big goals.

The question has now become, does Yakupov have a target on his back following his emotional celebrations in the early part of his career?

At the moment he does not, but that could certainly change quickly.

Veteran players don't like when rookies go overboard on their celebrations and talk trash. As a young player who has yet to earn the respect of a lot of veteran NHLers, Yakupov needs to be careful about when and how he shows his emotion on the ice.

It would be hard to imagine many players going after Yakupov to fight him, because he's a small player, he's not a fighter, and he's not playing the game dirty. He's just taking his celebrations a bit too far.

With that said, Yakupov's teammates will likely have to answer for his actions, because teams will play much more physical than they usually do against the Oilers if the star rookie gives them some extra motivation and anger from his celebrations.

You can bet that the next time the Kings play the Oilers (February 19), Los Angeles is going to be fired up and ready to dominate Edmonton from a physical standpoint. Yakupov will probably play against Kings power forwards Dustin Brown and Mike Richards quite a bit during the next game between the two teams.

Has Yakupov gone too far with his celebrations this season? His Fleury-esque moment was a bit much, but it's that type of passion that fuels him each night and helps him perform at a high level. Oilers teammate Sam Gagner doesn't have a problem with Yakupov's passion.

Right now, it would be foolish to think Yakupov has a target on his back, but he's certainly not helping his reputation by celebrating like he's just won a playoff game early in the regular season.

A lot of fans and players will look at Wednesday's events and realize Morris was upset that the referees did not call a hand pass on the game-winning goal and that Yakupov's celebration was not a big deal.

However, if Yakupov continues to make a bigger deal out of scoring a goal than he needs to, teams will start to play harder against him and look to rough him up whenever they can.

As a player talented enough to be a 40-goal scorer for many years, Yakupov should not have to passionately celebrate every time he scores an important goal. It's his job.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report, follow him on Twitter.

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