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Nail Yakupov turning page with Blues

Former No. 1 pick eager to play on 'one of the best teams in the League'

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It didn't take long for St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock to notice who the new skater on the ice was at practice Monday.

And after seeing newly acquired right wing Nail Yakupov zipping around the ice with the rest of his teammates, it got Hitchcock's attention.

"He's really quick," Hitchcock said of Yakupov, acquired in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers on Friday. "He's got great speed, he glides, covers a lot of space and a lot of ground very quickly. It's an element that the way we're built, it fits us pretty well right now."

Video: Hitchcock on adding Yakupov to the lineup

Yakupov, 23, was the first pick in the 2012 NHL Draft but didn't live up to the hype; he had 50 goals, 61 assists and a minus-88 rating in 252 NHL games for the Oilers. He skated Monday with Patrik Berglund in the middle and Dmitrij Jaskin at left wing, a line Hitchcock said the Blues are thinking about using in the season opener against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN).

Yakupov is getting a crash course of two practices and away he goes, ready or not.

"This is a really good opportunity to have the chance to play on one of the best teams in the League, play with a team that sticks with the system and [does] the right things," Yakupov said.

"It is what it is. I've been working hard too. I've pretty much done the same thing. I've been training, I played a few games and now I'm just going to be with a different group. This is now going to be my team. This is where I am now, and it doesn't matter when and where you're going to play. We've just got to be ready for the game, and now I'm into it too."

Perhaps what will help Yakupov, who had eight goals and 15 assists in 60 games last season, is that he won't be the center of attention, like he was in Edmonton as a No. 1 pick. Yakupov enters a locker room with veteran experience and can be one of the guys, work at his craft and be a piece to a successful puzzle.

Video: Oilers trade Nail Yakupov to Blues, sign Russell

"I'll say yes because there was pressure the past few years," Yakupov said. "Now everything's settled down. I'm happy to be here. I'm just kind of missing my family. I haven't seen them in a long time, but we'll make it happen for sure.

"You can't make everything happen on the first day. I need some time to kind of get back in trust, but I think I'm ready and it won't be that hard too. You learn."

And with a leadership group that includes fellow Russian Vladimir Tarasenko and former Oilers teammates David Perron and Magnus Paajarvi, the Blues will do all they can to make their new teammate feel welcome.

"Make him feel comfortable, make him feel like he's been here for as long as the rest of us have," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "Obviously, Vladi knows him, Perron knows him, Magnus [knows him]. 

"Anytime you have guys who have played with him, it certainly makes the transition easier. Our group here is pretty open to bring anybody in. We're pretty laid back in here, so he won't have any problems."

All Yakupov will look to bring is his high character and assets on the ice that the Blues hope will help make them successful.

"I'm going to try and bring my speed and make some shots and create some chances, get open and make another shot, get the puck back again," Yakupov said. "All the good things I have, I've got to use in the game."

The Blues will bring Yakupov along at a pace he's comfortable with, utilizing him in even-strength situations, then get him acclimated on special teams and hope what didn't work in Edmonton will work in St. Louis.

"That's why we worked on that unit hard at the end," Hitchcock said. "We spent 15 minutes on the ice with that unit. I just feel it's unfair for a player to ask him to come in and ask him to do everything right away. Let's get him used to one part of it, which is 5-on-5 and then hopefully we'll leak it into the power play the next 10 games or so.

"You don't watch another team's player very closely. It's a tough League, it's a tough League for everybody. I think he's a young guy that sometimes having the stress of having to perform at a high level makes you play a different game than you're used to. ... I think he's still in the middle of finding who he is as a player and we're the team that gets the second kick at him and we're hopeful that we can develop him into just a solid NHL player, which obviously based on skill set and based on disposition, he's going to do fine here. We have other players who have a similar skill set that we know how to work with and hopefully we can turn him around into a real solid 5-on-5 player and then dig in and help us a little bit on the power play.

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