Edmonton Oilers forward Nail Yakupov reverts to favourite jersey number (with video)
Third-year NHL sniper’s foot injury has healed
Edmonton Oilers winger Nail Yakupov signs Adhill Gaffar’s jersey during a break in the Edmonton Oilers hockey school at Servus Credit Union Place in St. Albert on July 29, 2014.
Photograph by: Greg Southam, Edmonton Journal
ST. ALBERT — Nail Yakupov may be sporting a new number for the 2014-15 NHL season, but he said it’ll still be the same name on the back of his sweater.“It’s my favourite number from a long time ago,” he said Thursday during the Edmonton Oilers’ hockey school at Servus Credit Union Place. “So yeah, why not, if you have a chance to change it.
“I don’t want to say anything is going to change my game or something,” he continued. “I don’t want to talk a lot about this number. I just change number.”
Yakupov had long worn No. 10 in honour of his childhood hero, former NHL star Pavel Bure, but then-Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff donned the digits when the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2012 joined the team.
Horcoff gave Yakupov his blessing to take the number after he was traded to the Dallas Stars last year, but the now-20-year-old Russian opted to play a second season wearing No. 64.
“I said, ‘Horc, no offence, but the fans are going to miss you and they know you played with No. 10 for a long time, so I’ll wait a little bit and then I’ll take it,’ ” Yakupov said.
Yakupov spent the first part of the summer back home in Russia with his family and friends. While he was having a good time and training as much as possible, he recently returned to Edmonton to get ready for his third NHL season.
“It’s maybe a huge year for me,” he said. “I feel more comfortable to train here than at home, so that’s why I’m here.
“I’ll train with the Oilers prospects, and then the NHL players are going to come, and then I want to play in the three-on-three tournament. ... I want to be here.”
Yakupov also wants to work with strength and conditioning coach Chad Drummond, who put together a summer training program for him while he was in Russia, and power-skating instructor Steve Serdachny “to make some (new) skills.”
Yakupov, who scored 11 goals and 24 points in 63 games last season while compiling a minus-33 plus/minus rating, one of the worst in the league, started skating again months ago, two or three times a week, but now wants to get on the ice more often.
“That’s why I’m here because we have too much space and a lot of gyms and a lot of ice time, so we can take whatever we want,” he said. “That’s the thing I like.
“In Russia, it’s a little bit tight. I have a (Kontinental Hockey League) team in my hometown, and we have just the one gym. It’s pretty hard to go there because if the KHL team is out there, you can’t go, and same on the ice time.”
Yakupov scored six goals in the final three games of his first season to lead all NHL rookies with 17 goals in 48 games. He also had 31 points.
But he was burdened by the sophomore jinx last season; his campaign was cut short when he suffered a cracked bone in his ankle after getting hit with a shot by defenceman Justin Schultz. Initially hurt on Feb. 27, he returned to the lineup to play seven more games before being sidelined for the rest of the season.
He was “scared” to push his injured foot too hard when he started training earlier this summer, but now says “it feels pretty good.” He said he doesn’t feel any pain in his foot and is “just ready to go.”
As for the upcoming season, Yakupov promised to “work hard and play 100 per cent.”
“I know myself and I’ll push harder, like I’ll push 100 per cent every day and we’ll see what holds,” he said. “Just the one God is going to know what’s going to be in (store) this year.
“I hope it’s going to be good for me and especially good for the team. We’ve got to play better than last year, so we’ll see how it goes.”
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