Nail Yakupov is in need of a fresh start, and the Avalanche are hoping he can find it in Colorado.
The club signed the UFA winger to a one-year deal worth $850,000 on Tuesday, with general manager Joe Sakic calling the 23-year-old a “skilled winger who will add depth to our lineup.”
Yakupov didn’t live up to the lofty expectations that come with being the No. 1-overall pick — especially in a hockey-crazed Canadian market like Edmonton.
Player agent and retired NHLer and Hall of Famer Igor Larionov believes coaching — particularly the number of coaches Yakupov’s had — has contributed to his client’s inability to translate his potential into NHL success.
Yakupov’s career in Edmonton began with Ralph Krueger behind the bench.
“Ralph knew right away, he told me right away, he said ‘I like his speed, I like his hunger, I like his nose for the goal,'” Larionov explained during an interview on Sportsnet 590 The FAN.
“He knew what to expect. He knows how to find the key to the player,” Larionov said of Krueger, who focused Yakupov’s play around even-strength and power-play ice time while keeping the youngster out of late-game situations. “So that was kind of the message sent to Nail, and he was fine with that.”
That approach, Larionov explained, resulted in a respectable 2012-13 season: 17 goals and 14 assists for 31 points in a lockout-shortened rookie campaign.
Krueger — and the patient approach he brought — lasted just one season, as he was replaced by Dallas Eakins in June 2013. Eakins would hold the position for a season and a half, with Todd Nelson stepping in temporarily before Todd McLellan took over in May 2015.
Yakupov, of course, struggled to find his game throughout the remainder of his time in Edmonton, tallying a total of 50 goals and 111 points in 252 games played while wearing an Oilers sweater.
“I don’t want to blame anybody [that came] after Ralph, but I guess sometimes the player [can get] confused,” Larionov said. “Nail was making some mistakes, some turnovers, it’s normal. Everybody makes mistakes, especially young players. Krueger had patience and was kind of learning through the process of every game.”
Larionov believes it all boils down to confidence, which is something Yakupov continued to struggle with after being traded to St. Louis in October 2016.
The trade out of Edmonton brought some relief from the spotlight, but a dip in playing time and points. He finished the season with just three goals and six assists in 40 games in 2016-17, watching a number of games from the press box.
He was not given a qualifying offer by the Blues, and became an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
We have yet to see if Yakupov can turn things around with Colorado, but clean slate — and perhaps a boost in confidence — could go a long way in this case.