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Yakupov finally thriving with Oilers: Larionov

by Dan Rosen

TORONTO -- That Edmonton Oilers forward Nail Yakupov has only one point, an assist, in five games since rookie center Connor McDavid went down with a fractured clavicle isn't all that surprising given the chemistry they were creating before the injury.

"It was a fun line to watch," said Hockey Hall of Fame member Igor Larionov, who doubles as Yakupov's agent, following the Legends Game at Air Canada Centre during Hall of Fame Weekend on Nov. 8.

Larionov, though, indicated that even without McDavid as his linemate, Yakupov is finally at peace in Edmonton and should be able to deliver consistently strong performances, which has been a problem for him since he came into the League in 2012-13 after being the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft.

The key for Yakupov, Larionov said, is Oilers coach Todd McLellan.

"Todd is a different breed, a different coach, and he's the guy for Nail," Larionov said. "He knows what to expect, how to push the buttons to get him going. It looks like they have a nice bit of understanding how to get the best out of Nail. Watching the games now you can see he's matured, he's calm, making good decisions, putting up points. His heart was always there and he's playing 100 percent every night."

Yakupov, who appears to be playing faster than ever before in the NHL, has 11 points and a minus-1 rating in 18 games, putting him on pace for a 50-point season, which would be his best rate of production since he had 31 points in 48 games as a rookie.

He had 33 points in 81 games last season, when he was also a minus-33. He had 24 points and was a minus-33 in 63 games during the 2013-14 season.

"You have to understand that as a young guy in his first four years in the National Hockey League he's had [four] coaches," Larionov said. "Sometimes even if you have mental strength and stamina, different coaches can break you because you lose confidence, and instead of playing the game you're afraid to make a mistake. Todd, right now, for him is the perfect man, the perfect coach. He lets him play and obviously he's responsible defensively so he can play a two-way style. I don't see any reason why he can't have a great season."


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