Alex Kerfoot

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A fresh start with Avalanche is yielding promising results for Nail Yakupov

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It had been a difficult few years for Nail Yakupov since he broke into the NHL.

Now 24 years old, he’s with his third team. He’s been injured. He’s been a healthy scratch. He so far hasn’t produced offensively like you’d expect from a No. 1 overall pick. His time in Edmonton was disappointing. He spent four seasons there before being moved on to St. Louis, where the struggle continued.

We’ll preface this with the usual “It’s still early” line, but Yakupov is enjoying an impressive start to this young season with his newest team, the Colorado Avalanche.

On Wednesday, he scored a beautiful goal to put Colorado ahead in the second period and then set up Matt Duchene later on to increase the Avalanche lead in a 6-3 victory over the Boston Bruins, giving Yakupov three goals and five points in four games and helping his team to a 3-1 record.

It didn’t work out for Yakupov in Edmonton. Or in St. Louis, where he played in only 40 games, scored three times and recorded nine points. He wasn’t extended a qualifying offer this summer and became an unrestricted free agent. The Avalanche stepped in and took a chance on the once highly touted forward, signing him to a one-year deal worth just $875,000.

For the Avalanche, it’s looking like a savvy bet early on.

He’s been able to have success while playing on a line with the highly skilled Duchene and college free agent signing Alex Kerfoot.

That’s quite a trio.

Yakupov is looking to get his career back on track. For quite some time, there has been doubt about Duchene’s time in Colorado given the rampant trade speculation, and Kerfoot is a New Jersey draft pick who chose free agency after his college career ended.

“They’re finding a way every night,” head coach Jared Bednar told reporters following the game. “They’re competitive guys, they’ve got this chemistry from Day One and it’s continued here again (Wednesday).”

Duchene now has five points in four games, while Kerfoot scored his first NHL goal on Wednesday. All three players lead the Avalanche in Corsi For percentage, with Yakupov at the top of the list five-on-five at 61.3 per cent, according to Corsica.  

It’s common to hear about the ‘fresh start’ factor and its impact on certain players. So far for Yakupov and the Avalanche, this one has yielded promising results.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Devils agree to terms on two-year deal with Will Butcher

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It’s official. Will Butcher has made his highly anticipated decision.

The New Jersey Devils have agreed to terms on a two-year entry-level deal with the Hobey Baker Award winner, the team announced Sunday. The deal for the 22-year-old defenseman comes with an annual average value of $925,000.

Butcher, originally drafted by the Colorado Avalanche, spent four years at the University of Denver. He opted not to sign with the Avalanche, becoming a free agent on Aug. 15.

This should provide a nice boost for the Devils organization after their draft pick Alex Kerfoot didn’t sign in New Jersey. He hit the open market a couple of weeks ago and — wait for it — eventually signed in Colorado.

In 43 games with Denver as a senior, Butcher recorded seven goals and 37 points. His agent, Brian Bartlett, made it clear during the free agency process that Butcher was not seeking a guaranteed roster spot in order to sign with a club. However, he should have a chance to make an impact on the Devils roster for this upcoming season.

New Jersey has been busy adding to its group of forwards, winning the draft lottery and selecting Nico Hischier and then acquiring Marcus Johansson in a trade with Washington. This signing should help bolster their blue line with the addition of a player regarded as a puck-moving defenseman with offensive upside.

Just prior to the Entry Draft in June, general manager Ray Shero acquired 2013 first-round pick and defenseman Mirco Mueller from San Jose.

So far, Mueller has yet to crack an NHL lineup on a full-time basis but that could change this upcoming season with the Devils. Shero still has work left to solidify his blue line ahead of training camp, with 23-year-old restricted free agent Damon Severson still without a contract.