Yakupov returns to Edmonton, playing noteworthy role with Blues


Nail Yakupov returns to Edmonton tonight, for the first time since the Oct. 7 trade that sent him to St. Louis.

To nobody’s surprise, Yakupov wants to make a statement to the team that dealt him away.

“I’d like to get two points here in this building for sure,” Yakupov told reporters, per Global News. “Can’t wait.”

The first overall pick in 2012, Yakupov struggled through four erratic campaigns in Edmonton before getting a much-needed change of scenery. Though things started well — as a rookie, he scored 17 goals and 31 points during the 48-game lockout campaign — but eventually got to the point where the speedy Russian was playing a complimentary role, at best, in Edmonton’s forward group.

There were healthy scratches, injuries and a constant upheaval in terms of coaching and hockey operations.

The Oilers had four different head coaches and three different GMs during the Yakupov era.

In St. Louis, things are different. Much different.

For one, the club has been under Ken Hitchcock’s tutelage for the last six years. A veteran tactician with a keen eye for systems play, Hitchcock’s had the Blues playing their particular brand of hockey for a while now, featuring the tenets of his preferred style of play — low-event, tight-checking, defensive organization.

It’s something Yakupov noticed immediately upon arriving.

“You can tell really [we’re] disciplined the way we play, the way we practice. A few guys have been in the league for many years,” he said, per iNews880. “Everyone knows what to do on the ice.  You really want to be part of it.”

Yakupov, who only turned 23 earlier this month, has been making the most of his opportunity in St. Louis. He had a goal and an assist through his first four games while playing limited minutes, and apparently showed enough to warrant a bigger role tonight.

With various injuries up front, Hitchcock looks ready to slot Yakupov onto line with center Paul Stastny, and talented young winger Robby Fabbri.