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The Roy Effect

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

Photo by Andy Devlin | Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club

EDMONTON, AB – Maybe Nail Yakupov didn’t realize it at the time, but the Oilers trade acquisition of Derek Roy would impact his growth and performance as a young player trying to find his way.

“It has been huge for us,” Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson said. “Derek has been excellent with Nail. You can see them really have a kinship on the ice and he’s been excellent. Any time they come off the ice after a shift there is conversation about what they can do better. Or Nail might say, ‘I’m open here.’ They have a discussion about it. It’s a great relationship, he’s done a great job with Nail in supporting him and Yak loves playing with him.”

Yakupov likes playing with his new veteran centre so much, that when Nelson asked him if he’d like an opportunity to move up the depth chart and play with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins following injuries on the wing he declined. He respectfully asked to remain with Roy, feeling that the chemistry they were building was good for him and the team.

Nelson’s foresight to ask Yakupov his thoughts on the move shows good communication between coach and player. The chemistry between Roy and Yakupov indicates good communication between linemates.

“He helps me around all the time,” Yakupov said. “We kind of are talking every shift and he just tells me what’s better to do and of course I’m going to listen to that guy. He’s saying the right things. It’s easy to talk to this guy, we can talk about everything. I think that’s very good, I’m really happy with him at centre.”

On Wednesday night against Boston, Roy fed Yakupov in front for his fourth goal in his last six games. It was a perfect example of the connection between the two.

In the beginning, the combo needed to work some things out. So quick and so deceptive on the ice, Yakupov was hard to keep track of at first. Roy spoke to that point back in January, but also admitted that Yakupov is not short on the work ethic needed to improve. The young winger has committed to learning where to be on the ice to complement his much more experienced linemate.

Photo by Andy Devlin | Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club

“I think the more you talk to him, the more he listens and understands,” Roy said. “Sometimes, at the start, he was in areas where you don’t score in those areas. I think he’s attacking the net more and that’s resulting in goals.”

The Oilers have to like the way Yakupov has attacked the net as of late.

Against Winnipeg on Monday, the Oilers had a nice breakout. Roy crossed the blueline and hit Yakupov on the wing with a pass. Yakupov cut in, using his speed to gain position on the net. He tucked the puck under Michael Hutchison for the game-tying goal at the time in the first period.

His two-goal game in Winnipeg secured a five-game point streak for Yakupov, his longest since 2013. He tied that career high on Wednesday against Boston, pushing his streak to six games.

“He’s playing pretty confident right now,” Nelson said. “Any time you get a few goals and points you gain more confidence. But I think he’s simplifying his game, he’s keeping it simple and when he gets an opportunity to shoot the puck, he is. It’s just him keeping things simple and he’s realizing that when he stays with a simple game plan those offensive opportunities will present themselves.”

Roy is a veteran of over 700 NHL games, not including nearly 50 playoff appearances. The positive effect of adding an experienced man in the middle was nearly instantaneous, and for Yakupov it’s been priceless.

Photo by Getty Images

“He’s just a good centre,” Yakupov said. “He does everything right. He’s been in the league many years and he has really good position as a centre. I think he’s a really good centre and that’s what I needed, it’s pretty key for me. What I try to do is get open and shoot the puck. Derek is never selfish, he never keeps the puck all to himself. If a guy is open he’ll always give it to him. That’s a really good player.”

Roy’s advice to Yakupov moving forward? Keep working hard, keep skating and you’ll get the puck.

“I just like that he goes into every game and skates. That’s what I try and tell him every game,” Roy said. “I try to implement that into his game is that if he’s skating then good things are happening. If he’s skating then he’s backing off the defencemen. If he’s skating then he’s scaring the other opponents. He’s doing a good job with that.”

When having these instructive conversations, it also helps to point out positives when they’re available. A perfect example was on February 2 in San Jose. Yakupov was aggressive, stealing the puck in the corner and then skating around the Sharks net, throwing on the breaks and setting up Roy in front for a goal. The veteran centre pointed at Yakupov after scoring as if to say, “That’s how you do it, kid.”

“He’s been working hard since I’ve seen him,” Roy said. “Every day he’s going out there and working hard on his game, whether it’s his shot or his speed or whatever. He’s doing everything in practice that is going to make him successful in a game.”

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