The bench boss laughed, but Yakimov was serious.
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After three short months of living in Canada and speaking the language for the first time in his life, the barrier doesn’t seem too intimidating anymore to the 21-year-old from Nizhnekamsk, Russia.
“The people are so kind and so good,” Yakimov said of his new home. “They help me and show me things. This is a new life for me. This is a new country.”
It isn’t just the language Yakimov has been picking up in that past few months. Living with a Canadian billet family, Yakimov has been learning how to be a young adult out on his own.
“They teach me all the time. I am learning to cook and to (do chores). When I lived at home, my mom helped me, or my sister. Here I am doing everything myself.”
Despite a little broken English, it’s not difficult to understand Yakimov or see that he has a good personality. Nelson noticed back in July at Oilers Orientation Camp in Jasper that Yakimov was just one of the guys, not intimidated by his new surroundings.
“I noticed his personality at Orientation Camp when we played golf in Jasper,” Nelson said. “Here’s a guy who has never picked up the sport. He’s athletic, he’s strong and I don’t know how he played during the round but guys I got a hold of said he’s just a guy who doesn’t play golf a whole lot. Then we had a long drive contest. I told Yak he didn’t have to go in this because it’s kind of a pressure situation. We had all of the players heckling whoever was up there, plus management was there. It was a situation where I would be nervous, really nervous. But he said, 'No, I want to go in this.'
“It showed that he is not intimidated by that kind of pressure.”
For those wondering, he hit the ball far but out of bounds.
Winning the contest would have been great, but Nelson is more impressed with Yakimov’s ability to mesh with the group.
“I saw that there and thought it was pretty good for a European kid that’s trying to fit in and everyday I’ve seen him here, he’s had a smile on his face. I think he’s got a great personality, he’s got a great outlook on the game and on life. I think once he learns the language a lot more, we’ll hear a lot more jokes out of him.”
Photo Provided by Jeff Vinnick
Despite being from Slovakia, fellow Oilers prospect Martin Gernat can speak Russian and has been helping Yakimov. He’s spent part of the summer around Oilers winger Nail Yakupov as well. His sister teaches English in Russia. Those factors and the help the Oilers organization continues to provide make for a nice support group.
The transition to Canada hasn’t been too hard on him. Aside from missing his family, Yakimov says the biggest change from Russia to Canada is with the drivers. The slower speed limits have been an adjustment and just like Ricky Bobby, he wants to go fast.
“I want every time to push (the pedal),” he said.
So Yakimov takes it slow. But fast progressions in his development would be a good thing for the Oilers, who selected him 83rd overall in 2013.
Following Orientation Camp where he served as captain for Team Blue during the scrimmage and scored a goal and two assists, Yakimov has made an impression this weekend as well. In game one of the Young Stars Tournament, the rookie netted a goal with a pretty top-shelf snipe. He also played an assertive game, finishing his checks and playing well enough to impress Nelson, who is serving as Head Coach for the Oilers Rookies.
“I thought he played a solid game. He scored a heck of a goal… (He) had to pull up and he make a great shot. I liked what I saw from him last night and I’m looking forward to watching him tonight.”
Nelson continued, “He finishes all of his checks. It’s amazing as I was looking at his stats and he only had two penalty minutes last year. How does that happen? Usually someone steps into your stick or something. But you didn’t see any passiveness in his game last night. He was finishing all of his checks, he was strong in the corners and that’s what we expect from him, being a guy that big.”
And Yakimov is big.
The centre is a hulking figure at 6-foot-5 and 232 pounds.
“The size is a benefit,” Nelson said. “Let’s face it, he’s a big man.”
Like all prospects, there are things Yakimov will have to work on before he is ready to make the jump to the NHL. But by being in the KHL last season, he has experience playing against grown men. That’s a place to start when it comes to developing this young man.
“I think he’s a two-way guy we’re going to have to develop. Obviously, we saw some offensive ability last night. But with his size and strength, we’d like to see a complete hockey game out of him.”
There’s no question that physically, Yakimov could compete with men in the NHL. It’s the matter of his development with the rest of his game. That will determine when he is ready to take the next step.
“I don’t know how much bigger this guy is going to get but he’s a monster,” Nelson said. "He’s big enough and strong enough to play in the NHL. The other parts of his game, we’ll have to get him ready to make the jump. Skill level always has to improve, playing the game within the game and all of those things you have to learn to make the jump and that’s going to take time.”
Asked when he thinks he will be ready for the NHL, Yakimov didn’t know.
“I hope not a long time before I start to play in the NHL.”
What about October?
“That would be so good,” he smiled.