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Under Pressure: Nail Yakupov

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The Nail Yakupov headlines on PHT last season pretty much say it all:

Failing Nail? Oilers scratch Yakupov Saturday

Yakupov ‘not happy’ about being a healthy scratch

Yakupov will be a healthy scratch again Monday

Russian Olympic scout blasts Yakupov: ‘If he’s not going to change his game, he has no future’

Yakupov’s agent to meet with Oilers, ‘willing to make a move’

Yakupov: ‘It’s pretty cold on the bench’

Oilers to healthy scratch Yakupov… again

Eakins to Yakupov: ‘You’ve got to earn it’

So yeah, 2013-14 was not the greatest for Yak. Aside from the healthy scratches, trade rumors and acrimonious relationship with his head coach, Yakupov also missed 16 games to injury (concussion, ankle) and finished with the fourth-worst plus-minus rating in the league last year, at minus-33.

It’s almost hard to remember that, just two years ago, Yakupov was a tantalizing talent that tore up the Ontario Hockey League, scoring 170 points in 102 games over the course of two seasons with Sarnia. That paved the way for Edmonton to select him first overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, which paved the way for an immediate jump to the NHL, where he actually fared quite well — remember that Yakupov led all rookies in goals during the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign, with 17, and finished fifth in Calder voting.

Which made last season all the more nightmarish.

Now — and this is weird to say about someone that doesn’t turn 21 until October — Yakupov is at something of a crossroads. Barring a piano falling on his head, everything that could’ve gone wrong last year did, which provides plenty of narratives as the Russian sniper heads into the final year of his entry-level deal. Is Yakupov a quality player that simply had a dreadful sophomore slump? Or is he a one-dimensional, offense-first guy that just doesn’t get it?

To that last point — maybe he does get it. Contract status and his future with the Oilers are on the line, and it’s something Yakupov recognizes. From the Edmonton Journal:

Yakupov spent the first part of the summer back home in Russia with his family and friends. While he was having a good time and training as much as possible, he recently returned to Edmonton to get ready for his third NHL season.

“It’s maybe a huge year for me,” he said. “I feel more comfortable to train here than at home, so that’s why I’m here.

“I’ll train with the Oilers prospects, and then the NHL players are going to come, and then I want to play in the three-on-three tournament. … I want to be here.”

It’s worth noting that pressure on Yakupov is coming from outside Edmonton as well. Ryan Murray, who the Oilers passed on at the ’12 draft, just turned in a banner year on the Columbus blueline. The decision was controversial at the time…

… and continues to be today, especially with how valuable talented young defensemen are. And how badly Edmonton could use one.

So, just to refresh what Yakupov’s up against: a contract year, coming off a horrible second season, under a head coach he didn’t see eye-to-eye with and in the growing shadow of Murray, the guy the Oilers could’ve had.

That’s pressure.

Lightning sign their other Nikita (Nesterov)

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - APRIL 07:  Nikita Nesterov #89 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on April 7, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the New Jersey Devils 4-2.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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The Tampa Bay Lightning signed their second-most important Nikita on Monday, inking Nikita Nesterov to a one-year, $725K contract.

The 23-year-old defenseman has to appreciate the fact that this is a one-way deal, as the Lightning blueline isn’t the easiest group to crack. (That will be especially true if James Wisniewski makes an impression with his PTO.)

Nesterov has been battling for ice time the past two seasons and was also a member of Russia’s World Cup team. It’s super-important to note that he wears No. 89, which is a little unusual for a defenseman.

(Only the important tidbits here.)

Now, onto the tougher challenge of signing that other Nikita

Senators focus on MacArthur’s safety

EDMONTON, AB - NOVEMBER 13: Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Ottawa Senators in action against the Edmonton Oilers during an NHL game at Rexall Place on November 13, 2014 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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The Ottawa Senators were already trying to take a relatively safe approach with Clarke MacArthur, yet he suffered a concussion thanks to a Patrick Sieloff hit during a scrimmage.

It’s too early to say that MacArthur will be forced to retire after this latest injury. At the moment, the Senators were merely happy to see him at the rink receiving treatment, as Guy Boucher told reporters.

“At this point in time, it’s not about Clarke MacArthur the hockey player. It’s about Clarke MacArthur the person,” Mark Borowiecki said, according to the Ottawa Citizen’s Ken Warren.

It’s a thought echoed by Senators GM Pierre Dorion shortly after the check, noting that they’re most focused on MacArthur as a “human being.”

Many wonder if Sieloff will face repercussions – perhaps even being released – for delivering such a hit during a scrimmage, especially after just being acquired.

So far, it sounds like he isn’t getting much heat, at least beyond the initial reaction of players getting physical with him right after the check. Boucher said “we’re not pointing fingers at the young kid right now,” according to Warren.

Here’s video of that hit, by way of Silver Seven Sens:

Twitter has field day with Oilers’ dead-eyed mascot

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The Edmonton Oilers started a Photoshopping frenzy on Monday by unleashing their bizarre, dead-eyed mascot “Hunter” onto the Internet.

Give the team credit; the road to this mascot was paved with good intentions. Apparently thousands of Edmonton-area students aided in choosing “Hunter,” who is a tribute to the team’s original owner.

Here’s the introductory Tweet itself. Feel free to insert your own screaming noises.

Let’s bypass the Oilers’ more mundane release for a “bio” written in character by the, erm, “Canadian lynx” itself. Here’s a choice bit:

Like my lynx family and friends, I only come out at night to hunt, and on one of those nights I actually came across a bunch of kids playing hockey on an outdoor rink. One look at the game and I was hooked. The speed, the skill, the fun! I began climbing up the banks of the River Valley every night during the winter, catching shinny games with everyone wearing their Edmonton Oilers jerseys, both old and new! It didn’t take me long to become a hard core Oilers fan.

O…K.

Honestly, there are a lot of elements to unpack here. We almost don’t need people to bat this one around on social media, but then again, Hunter inspires references from “Too Many Cooks” to “Thundercats” and more.

Let’s gather some of the best bits.

Futility references

Hey, did you hear that the Oilers struggle to compete? The Internet sure did.

They sure did.

Pop culture references

More than one Thundercats reference.

Warning, if you’ve never watched “Too Many Cooks,” you might not want to go down that rabbit hole. (Either that, or you’ll feel like you REALLY missed out … there’s not a lot of room in between.)

Creepiness

Sensibly enough, most people hit the highest notes about how specifically terrifying that mascot is. Some of these mix in pop culture references too, but still:

All in all, it was quite a good time, right?

/Plans on sleeping with every light on.

Report: Gaborik (foot) to miss eight weeks

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 17: Marian Gaborik #12 of Team Europe celebrates his first period goal against Team USA during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 17, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Update: Yikes, the Los Angeles Kings announced that Marian Gaborik will be sidelined for eight weeks with a foot injury, according to the Los Angeles Times’ Helene Elliott.

Team Europe GM Miroslav Satan confirmed Gaborik’s departure:

“Due to a lower-body injury suffered on Sunday, forward Marian Gaborik has left Team Europe and he will not return. Marian was a very important part of Team Europe throughout the entire World Cup of Hockey and though he is leaving our group today, he remains a part of our team. We know he will be supporting us in the final against Team Canada and we wish him all the best in his recovery.”

***

Some bad news for Team Europe and the Los Angeles Kings — Marian Gaborik, who was seen this morning on crutches, is reportedly out of the World Cup of Hockey final and may miss the beginning of the NHL campaign as well.

The news, first reported by Sportsnet, comes after Gaborik played 17:58 in Europe’s shock semifinal win over Sweden, scoring his team’s opening goal.

Gaborik took a puck to the foot during the second period, yet managed to finish the game.

The veteran Slovak had enjoyed a good tournament prior to getting hurt, scoring a pair of goals while getting healthy doses of ice time, including nearly 19 in a win over the Czechs in the group stage.

With Gaborik out, Mikkel Boedker will (presumably) make his tournament debut. Boedker has been a healthy scratch for the Europeans thus far, though it’s possible he could continue to sit if head coach Ralph Krueger elects to dress seven defensemen — Luca Sbisa would get the call — rather than plug in another forward.

As for the ramifications for L.A… well, this could be tough. Gaborik, signed through 2021 at $4.875M per, only scored 12 goals and 22 points in 54 games last season — missing extensive time with a lingering knee injury — and the Kings were hopeful he was in line for a bounce-back campaign, especially given how good he looked at the World Cup.

Sportsnet reports Gaborik is headed back to Los Angeles today.