“I promise I am going to work hard and play 100 percent. I hope it’s going to be good for me and especially good for my team. We’ve got to play better than last year. We’ll see how it goes,” said Yakupov, who was in St. Albert on Tuesday for Oilers Hockey School presented by Rogers.
For as much excitement as Yakupov provided in his rookie season (team-high 17 goals in 2012-13), last season was more of a flavour of adversity for the 2012 number one overall pick. He followed his 31-point rookie season (17-14-31 in 48 games) with a 24-point year (11-13-24) in 63 games this season.
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There were some low points, and Yakupov says he knew it was time to move on in March when a teammate’s heavy shot caught him in the skate and resulted in a foot injury. For him, the past season is a distant memory best left in the past and he is now fully healthy and ready to rebound.
“My season was over after Justin Schultz’s shot hit me in the foot,” Yakupov said. “I haven’t even thought about last year. I have recovered from my foot injury, I have worked over the summer on my foot and tried to skate a little bit. I feel pretty ready to go. I’m 100 percent and I can do everything with my foot.”
Yakupov has already begun training hard for the upcoming season, utilizing the limited resources available to him in Russia to continue his Oilers-crafted workout program. Now he is back in Edmonton and is eager to pick up the pace.
“This may be a huge year for me and that’s why I am here to work for a month and a half, to be here and train, to do some stuff with my trainers. It’s to be ready for the season and do some different stuff. I feel more comfortable training here than at home. That’s why I am here.”
It could very well be a big year for Yakupov, who turns 21 just days before the season opener. It will be the Russian’s third season in the NHL and he is looking to take the next step.
Oilers Sr. Director of Player Development Rick Carriere commented this off-season on Yakupov’s progress. There are some things the talented player needs to work on to take the next step at the NHL level.
“I think the coaches are working very hard with Nail to try and get him to understand his play without the puck defensively, with his position, how to support the puck and how to utilize his speed and skills more effectively in more of a team setting,” Carriere said.
The player development boss said a lot of Yakupov’s rookie success could be attributed to the abbreviated season due to the NHL lockout. This past season was more of an adjustment.
“This season, from start to finish, was probably a long year for a guy in his first full season in North America and the National Hockey League. It’s a long year for a good league that doesn’t forgive mistakes. There’s some things I think he’s working at and he’s improving in.”
Yakupov is ready for a fresh start. He has switched his jersey number from 64 to 10. And although he says it doesn’t change his game, it’s a fresh look in a new season. It’s a season where Yakupov’s first and only expectation is to be better.
“I just want to be better everyday. That’s why I am here in the summer for training and to be in the Oilers program, to be with my coach, training on the ice and off the ice. We’ve got to be better than last year. I think it’s a better thing to think about the team. I think we’ll be together and we’ll be better than last year.”