Forward Nail Yakupov is in his first season with the Colorado Avalanche after signing a one-year contract with the club on July 4. Selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, Yakupov is seeking to establish a fresh start with the Avs. The 23-year-old right wing stands at 5-foot-11 and 196 pounds and spent last year with the St. Louis Blues after playing four seasons with the Edmonton Oilers.
Originally from Nizhnekamsk, Russia, Yakupov is entering his sixth year playing in the NHL. Last season with the Blues, he had nine points (three goals, six assists) in 40 games after being acquired in a trade from Edmonton just days before the season began on Oct. 7.
After being the top pick by the Oilers in 2012, Yakupov recorded 31 points (17 goals, 14 assists) as a rookie in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. He has 120 points (53 goals, 67 assists) in his 292 NHL-game career.
When he became a free agent this past summer, Yakupov had offers from several other teams but eventually chose to further his professional career in Denver.
Yakupov chatted with ColoradoAvalanche.com about joining the club during training camp.
What intrigued you about signing with the Avalanche?
"There were other teams that had interest in me. I know my agent told me that other teams wanted me, but the Colorado Avalanche intrigued me the most. I have guys that I know here; I know Varly (Semyon Varlamov). It's been a long time, but as soon as we see each other at team dinners, we're like old friends again. I knew I was going to stay in the NHL, and I wanted to be in the NHL, especially if the Colorado Avalanche want me. So I just said yes right away."
What are your goals for this upcoming campaign?
"You want to have more good games than bad games. I want to give everything that I can for this team, and I'll be happy to wear this jersey and play every game. I'll try to have fun, enjoy my game and enjoy my time because it was really tough the last few years to have that feeling. So I hope this team, this locker room and this organization will bring their best, and I'll keep doing my best every day."
Do you see this opportunity with the Avs as a chance to get your game back to how you used to play?
"Obviously yeah, but it's not going to be right if I'm going to say I'm looking to have this many goals and assists. If we are going to be good as a team, everyone will have a chance to be involved. The more you're going to do for the team, the better. I'm going to try and be as helpful as I can."
Growing up in Russia, did you ever think that you would come to North America and play in the NHL?
"I never thought about it growing up. The reason I went to the CHL (Canadian Hockey League) was to try something new. It changed my life. I think at the time, I was really young when I first moved to North America to play in Canada. It was different and after the first year I moved here I never thought I would be in the NHL, but things just turned around and now I'm here."
What did it mean to you personally to leave all your friends and family in Russia and transition to a new life in North America?
"I mean it's our life. It's our job, That's what we do. We work our whole lives for this and spend pretty much every day playing hockey. The time flies, and you can play happy every day. At the end of the day when you get a break, you can go back home and spend time with your family."
What do you like to do in your free time when you're not playing hockey?
"With 82 games in seven months, there isn't much time. I do some fun stuff in the summer at the end of the year, but right now I'm pretty much only focused on hockey."
What was your favorite hockey memory growing up?
"I had some really good hockey memories growing up when I was in the junior leagues. I also had a really good time when I played a little in the KHL and then entering the NHL. Maybe my first NHL game because it was huge for me and I was really emotional. But I've done a lot of things, and I have a lot of good memories."
If you didn't have the opportunity to play hockey, what other career would like to pursue?
"Probably soccer. I love soccer. If the guys want to play soccer, I'll play a little bit. But I think I'm better at hockey than soccer, for sure."