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Blues 'in no hurry' for Nail Yakupov to raise game

St. Louis will be patient with No. 1 pick in 2012 Draft following trade with Oilers

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- Nail Yakupov received a text message from St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko on Friday to wish him a belated happy birthday.

Tarasenko missed Yakupov's birthday, his 23rd, by one day, and wanted his friend to know he didn't forget.

Tarasenko didn't know at the time, but hours later, it became official that the Blues acquired Yakupov, the first pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers for forward prospect Zach Pochiro and a conditional third-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft (it will become a second-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft if Yakupov scores at least 15 goals with the Blues this season).

"I heard something, but not 100 percent," Tarasenko said of reports earlier Friday involving St. Louis trading for Yakupov. "He had the birthday, so I sent him a text and was hoping we could make a trade. It's nice to have him here, and I will try help with him whatever I can.

"We never played together on the same team when [we were in] juniors (they are from Russia and played in the Kontineal Hockey League). We just started talking maybe a couple, three years ago, and [went] for dinners together. He's a great player and [has a] good personality. I think he will do well here."

Video: Oilers trade Nail Yakupov to Blues, sign Russell

Yakupov has 111 points (50 goals, 61 assists) in 252 games through four seasons in the NHL, and St. Louis will try to set him up to succeed.

"We're going at it different than most people think, and that is he has a skill set and we want to enhance the skill set," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "The stuff without the puck, it's going to take time, and we're in no hurry. We're not going to turn a player into a defensive specialist. We don't anticipate doing that at all. We want to take what his strengths are and get him to really focus on that, and the other stuff is teachable, and we'll work with him.

"It might take six months, it might take four months before the team stuff comes into play, but what he does well … we want him doing it every day and having the confidence to do it. The rest, we'll teach him and we'll nudge him along, but we're in no hurry right now.

Tweet from @StLouisBlues: First glimpse �� @Nail10_1993

"I have a lot of experience in dealing with this type of player, so I think given the opportunity … I think we can work with him. We did our homework, they did their homework. ... We have an opening here because [center Vladimir] Sobotka didn't come and it put us in a position to put another skilled forward in that position. I think it's a win-win for both organizations, and now on our side, it's up to us to work with [Yakupov] to get him up to speed."

Sobotka, a seven-year NHL veteran who played four seasons with the Blues before leaving for the KHL in 2014, wanted to return to St. Louis, but his KHL team, Avangard Omsk, refused to let him out of the final year of his contract to do so.

Yakupov was expected to arrive in St. Louis on Saturday and watch the Blues' preseason finale against the Chicago Blackhawks. He is expected to be in uniform for St. Louis for the regular-season opener at the Blackhawks on Wednesday.

Video: Hitchcock on adding Yakupov to the lineup

"[Yakupov] is a hard worker," said Blues forward David Perron, who was his teammate in Edmonton (from 2013-15). "He puts in the work every single day, on and off the ice. I think he's willing to learn, and I think it's going to be a good change for him. I think he's needed that for maybe a couple years even now.

"I look forward to seeing how he's going to respond. Clearly being a top draft pick there, he's got a lot of pressure, and I think coming out of there, maybe will kind of ... hey, just be the player you are, work hard and we'll see what happens. He can get open and he's going to put some pucks in the net, for sure."

Yakupov said he's looking forward to a fresh start in St. Louis.

"This is a top team in the League, and to be there and to win games, I think it's going to be good," Yakupov said Friday. "I don't know what winning is, and I'd like to feel that, and I think this is a team where I can feel it."

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