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Oilers' Yakupov putting rough season behind him

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- Nail Yakupov has moved on.

After spending the majority of the offseason in Russia, the Edmonton Oilers right wing has returned to prepare for the NHL season, having put a disappointing second season behind him.

"It might be a huge year for me and that's why I'm here, to work on some things and to be here and train," Yakupov said Tuesday during a visit to the Oilers summer hockey school. "I just want to be ready for the season. I'm going to be doing some different things this year. I feel more comfortable here than training at home. That's why I'm here and I will train with the Oilers prospects and the other NHL players that will come."

Nail Yakupov
Right Wing - EDM
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 24
SOG: 122 | +/-: -33
Yakupov had a strong rookie season with 17 goals and 14 assists in 48 games after being taken with the first pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. But he struggled in 2013-14 under new coach Dallas Eakins. Yakupov was a healthy scratch on a number of occasions before his season came to a premature end with an ankle injury. In 63 games he had 11 goals and 13 assists.

"My season was over after [teammate] Justin Schultz's shot hit me in the foot," Yakupov said of a March 16 game. "I haven't even thought about last year. I have recovered from my foot injury. I worked over the summer on my foot and tried to skate a little bit. I feel pretty good and I'm ready to go. I'm 100 percent and I can do everything with my foot."

As part of his new approach, Yakupov is going back to a familiar number; he switched to No. 10 after wearing No. 64 his first two seasons. Former captain Shawn Horcoff wore No. 10 before being traded to the Dallas Stars last summer.

"I've always played with the No. 10. It's my favorite number," Yakupov said. "[Horcoff] said I could wear No. 10, so I'll take it.


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"I don't want to say too much about it. It's not like I think changing the number is going to change my game or something. It's just a number. There may be a different number on my jersey, but the last name is going to be the same."

Yakupov is working with the Oilers conditioning and skating staff prior to training camp.

He's settled into a weekly on-ice routine, which soon will include the Perry Pearn 3-on-3 Hockey Tournament. The annual event attracts a number of Edmonton-area professionals.

"I'll go play in that 3-on-3 tournament that they have here, and I want to be here and enjoy the rest of the summer here too," Yakupov said. "Also there is a lot of space here and a lot of gyms and a lot of available ice time, so you can go whenever you want.

"In Russia it's a little bit tight. I have a KHL team in my hometown and they have just the one gym and it's pretty hard to go there because if the KHL team is out there then you can't go. It's the same thing with the ice time. I like to be here and take all the ice time I can on the ice, and in the gym and work with my trainer and coaches here and just enjoy it."

Yakupov is looking to make a bigger contribution at both ends of the ice. His minus-33 rating last season became a sore point with the Oilers coaching staff, and he desperately wants to improve his play away from the puck.

"I'm doing everything I can in order to do that," he said. "I'm pushing myself hard and I'll work 100 percent every day in order to get better. We'll see what it's going to be like this year. I promise I'll work hard, play 100 percent every day. I hope it's going to be good for me and good for the team. We have to play better than we did last year, so we'll see how it goes."

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