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Yakupov makes first trip back to Edmonton

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues

EDMONTON - Nail Yakupov got a change of scenery in early October, but the scenery will once again be familiar on Thursday as the 23-year-old native of Nizhnekamsk, Russia returns to where it all began.

Yakupov, a first-overall pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2012, will get a chance to meet his former teammates tonight at Rogers Place in Edmonton (8 p.m. CT, FSMW, KMOX).

"I feel great," Yakupov said after Wednesday's practice. "I'm really excited to be back, because I was here for a long time and I'm looking forward to playing a game against my old team in this building. I didn't expect to come to (the Blues), but it turned out really well for me because I enjoyed coming to this team and this organization.

"I haven't been (with St. Louis) for a long time, but I already feel comfortable and the guys have been really, really good to me. I haven't felt any pressure or had any problems."

Before being traded to the Blues on Oct. 7 in exchange for prospect Zach Pochiro and a conditional third-round draft pick in 2017, Yakupov played in four seasons with the Oilers. In 256 games, he scored 50 goals and 61 assists (111 points). Last season, he had eight goals and 15 assists in 60 games.

In four games with the Blues this season, Yakupov has one goal and one assist.

Video: Yakupov excited for return to Edmonton

"He's been good. He's fit in, he's finding his way," Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He's trying to become a good teammate and the nice part with 'Yak' is there's no expectations. Just come in and work your tail off and hopefully contribute when you can. There's no baggage. He's done exactly that.

"He's a very unique player from what we have," Hitchcock added. "He's different than what we have in our lineup, so there's an energy level when he's on the ice that's good for us."

Yakupov skated Wednesday with center Paul Stastny and winger Robby Fabbri, and he could play on that line for Thursday's game.

"These guys are my family now and I'm really into it. I feel good now," Yakupov said. "I love Edmonton fans. There are a lot of good people here…I'd like to say thanks to Edmonton and to everyone I've played with and worked with, but I have a new team, a new home now. This is my team."

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