Oilers’ Yakupov sticks with No. 64 out of respect for Horcoff
Sophomore could have switched to the No. 10 jersey he has previously worn
EDMONTON - It would have been an easy switch, given that the No. 10 jersey is available.
It’s the number Nail Yakupov has had regularly stitched onto his jerseys in the past. Yet he has no intention of making that change now that Shawn Horcoff has been traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Dallas Stars.
Yakupov said on Friday he’ll continue to wear 64, chosen last year because the six and four digits add up to 10. The decision was made because he wanted to pay respect to Horcoff’s tenure with the team and because he wanted to carve out his own identity.
“He played a lot of years here. Forever ... I want the fans to know Horc for No. 10,” Yakupov said after Friday’s training camp scrimmage.
Yakupov will play alongside Mark Arcobello and Linus Omark again on Saturday when one group of Oilers plays the Calgary Flames in an exhibition game at Rexall Place while another squad plays in Calgary.
“I had 64 in my first year and that was actually good year for me ... so I’ll still wear 64,” he said.
Despite the signs of maturity, there’s still a boyishness that continues to personify the winger. Take his recap of the day he found out he was not one of the three finalists for the rookie of the year honours, despite a late-season flourish that pushed him to the top of the rookie scoring list.
Yakupov finished the 48-game lockout-shortened season with 17 goals and 14 assists. The Florida Panthers’ Jonathan Huberdeau (14 goals, 17 assists) won the Calder Memorial Trophy.
“At the time, I was with my buddies playing a computer game on-line. There were, like, seven of us,” Yakupov said. “I got the message from the NHL and I thought, ‘OK, whatever.’ And I went back to playing the game.
“It wasn’t that big a thing for me. Everybody thought I was so pissed, that I’m not happy about it. But it’s OK. It happened. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. You have to play more years like (agent) Igor Larionov said. You just have to work hard every day, every year.”
Drafted first overall in 2012, Yakupov didn’t want to waste much time talking about his rookie campaign, although he did say his biggest takeaway was that he had to work harder than he expected when he first stepped into the NHL.
It wasn’t like he didn’t put in the time last year. Often, he was the last one off the practice ice and he was a regular in the gym, but he said there’s still room for improvement. He’s also got his sights set on making the Russian Olympic team, which means a solid start is imperative.
“It is easy this year, though,” he said. “Last year, I didn’t know anything about the NHL. Everything was different. Life was different. Now I’ve had four months here, I know the guys, I know the coaches, I know what I have to do now.”
Head coach Dallas Eakins admitted he’s already got a good gauge of Yakupov’s passion for the game and was equally impressed with what he saw when the sophomore and Omark scored in the shootout to propel the Blue team to victory.
“The thing I really love about Yakupov is his passion for the game,” said Eakins. “I think he’s one of those guys that ... if there were a bunch of kids playing out on the street, he might go out and play with them.”
Yakupov, who turns 20 on Oct. 6, will once again remain under the comfortable wing of his mother, who is returning to Edmonton again with his sister. He also returned to Edmonton following a month of training with Larionov, who brings several Russian players into Detroit during the off-season.
“It’s always going to be one thing with me; it’s always going to be more,” Eakins said of his expectations for Yakupov this season. “I don’t like limits. So if he is a 25-goal guy, we want 30. If he gets 30, we’ll want 35. It will never end.
“The one thing with him is that we firmly want him to understand our plan that is in place. When the other team finally does get the puck off of us, it’s about how we’re going to get it back very quickly. We’ll teach him that, and it will be the same teaching process for the whole team.”
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