Nail Yakupov still believes he has some high-level hockey left in him and he’s hoping to prove it to hockey fans this season as a member of the Colorado Avalanche.
The first-overall pick of the Edmonton Oilers from 2012 signed a one-year contract worth $875,000 with the Avs back in July following a rough year with the St. Louis Blues in which he played just 40 games, registered a career-low nine points, and was often a healthy scratch.
“This is a chance I have to take,” the 23-year-old Russian said of his fresh start with the Avalanche via AJ Haefele of BSN Denver. “I just play and it’s much better when you play instead of sitting in top of the rink just watching.”
Yakupov knows if he’s going to earn a full-time spot on an NHL club—even one like Colorado that put up an embarrassing 48 points in the standings in 2016-17—he’s going to need to make some significant improvements to his game.
“I’ll try to do everything I can. Try to use my strength, use my speed and my shot, and especially be good in all three zones. Be helpful,” Yakupov explained. “I don’t want to be stuck. If you win possession in one and lose the other two you have to be good in all three zones and especially know what you’re going to do on the ice and what your assignments are. You have to be smart, you have to be careful, and you also have to be a hard player to play.”
The former Sarnia Sting standout has 120 points in 292 career regular-season NHL games split between the Oilers and Blues, although his production and effectiveness on the ice has drastically declined over the past three seasons.