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Yakupov Fitting In With The Avalanche

The joyful forward will skate in his 300th NHL game

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

Has there ever been a day where Colorado Avalanche forward Nail Yakupov is not smiling? 

Team captain Gabriel Landeskog hasn't seen it if there was.

"Not really. I think he always has a smile on his face, whether he is speaking Russian or English," Landeskog said. "He's always a funny guy."

The Nizhnekamsk, Russia, native has fit in well with this year's Avs squad after joining the club in the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. Yakupov is showing flashes of the offensive threat that he was known for when he was drafted No. 1 overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2012 and recorded 17 goals in only 48 games as a rookie the following season.

The sample size for this year is still small with Colorado just two weeks into its new campaign, but Yakupov is just one point off the team lead in scoring with three goals and two assists in seven contests.

"He brings a lot of speed, a lot of skill," Landeskog said. "He's a funny guy. He fits in really well with our dressing room and the guys that we have. I can't really say anything bad about him. I think he's really fit it well. Hopefully he can stay hot. He's been playing well and has been putting a few goals into the back of the net."

Yakupov, or "Teri" as his teammates call him (get it, Teri-Yak-i), has enjoyed his time so far in Colorado. He's playing with three of his Russian countryman (Andrei Mironov, Semyon Varlamov, Nikita Zadorov) and has skated on one of the top scoring lines through the first handful of games.

"You learn a lot. You learn every day," Yakupov said. "I've been through a lot of organizations. You play with different guys, you have different coaches, different city. Everything is so different. Here in Colorado is different too, but I think it's a great opportunity for me to kind of start everything on a new page and so far I'm enjoying being here with these guys and with this organization. I want to stick with it."

Yakupov will play against one of those former teams this evening as the Avalanche hosts the St. Louis Blues at Pepsi Center. It is also big night for Yakupov in another way, as he'll play in his 300th NHL contest.

When he first learned about the milestone after morning skate, a grin immediately formed across his face in typical "Teri" fashion.

"I didn't know about it," said an ecstatic Yakupov. "I think it's a great number. It's my sixth year, and I can tell the time flies. Maybe it's a new step for me, and I just got to enjoy it."

Yakupov, 24, played his first four years in the league with the Oilers before being traded to the Blues prior to the start of last season. He went on to appear in 40 games with St. Louis and tallied three goals and nine points--marks he's already close to surpassing.

The right wing said it won't be as weird playing St. Louis as it would if it was Edmonton, but that it will still be a bit different facing players he considers friends and were teammates with just six months earlier.

"I don't think it will be crazy. Still, I was there for a year. I have some friends--I have been really tight with Vladimir Tarasenko and it's going to be really interesting to play against him again," he said. "[And] especially against the rest of the guys that I had been with for a whole year. We'll see what happens, but it's a battle and it's all about business."

The Avalanche was on a three-game winning streak and was rolling offensively before going on the road last weekend. The team hit a bump against the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators, as it dropped both contests while being outscored by a 7-2 margin.

Colorado is looking to get back to how it played at home prior to the recent trip, and Yakupov says it begins with playing fast and smart and creating chances in the offensive end.

"It's going to be a really fast game," Yakupov said. "We just want to win the game tonight and stick with our system and make sure we know what we're doing. We'll see what happens, but we'll definitely fight for two points tonight."

STARTERS AND SCRATCHES

Goaltender Jonathan Bernier will make his third start of the season as he'll guard the pipes tonight for the Avalanche. Bernier is coming off a 17-save performance on Friday in Colorado's 4-1 victory against the Anaheim Ducks.

As part of Wednesday's line shuffling at practice, rookie forward Alexander Kerfoot was moved to a grouping with J.T. Compher and Gabriel Landeskog, and it appears as if he'll center that line this evening.

Kerfoot is a natural center but had been playing wing to start the year with Matt Duchene and Nail Yakupov. Head coach Jared Bednar said it was a move to help ease Kerfoot into the speed of the NHL after playing four years of college hockey.

"Kind of get his feet under him and get used to the opponents and whatnot," Bednar said. "[Center] is where he played his whole life. I feel like he's getting closed out on the boards a little bit and not finding enough space that he's used to. Part of it is the competition and level of play, but I would like to see him at some point in the middle. After losing a couple of games and moving our lines a bit to find a spark, I think it is a good opportunity for him to get back to the middle of the ice and see how he handles it."

Bednar said the Avs' defensive scratches will be Chris Bigras and Andrei Mironov as Patrik Nemeth returns to the lineup after missing Tuesday's contest with a shoulder injury. Matt Nieto is expected to be the scratched forward as he took part in today's optional morning skate.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Tyson Jost - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Sven Andrighetto - Matt Duchene - Nail Yakupov
Gabriel Landeskog - Alexander Kerfoot - J.T. Compher
Colin Wilson - Carl Soderberg - Blake Comeau

Nikita Zadorov - Erik Johnson
Patrik Nemeth - Tyson Barrie
Mark Barberio - Anton Lindholm

Jonathan Bernier
Semyon Varlamov

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