MOSCOW, August 27 (R-Sport) – Edmonton Oilers forward Nail Yakupov had mixed feelings about leaving the KHL’s Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk when the NHL lockout ended last January but has told R-Sport his rookie season was largely positive and is looking forward to a “sparkling” sophomore campaign.
The 19-year-old played 22 games for Neftekhimik, his hometown team, scoring 18 points and earning Rookie of the Month honors in October. In Edmonton, Yakupov, the No. 1 overall pick in 2012, led all NHL rookies in scoring with 17 goals over 48 appearances.
“Of course I would have liked to have played a full season with Neftekhimik. I didn’t want to leave Nizhnekamsk because, to be honest, we had a pretty cool team,” Yakupov said at Russia’s Olympic orientation camp over the weekend.
“But in Edmonton it was great. The only bad thing was that we didn’t make the playoffs.”
The Oilers finished 19-29 last season and 12th in the Western Conference.
Yakupov expressed hope Edmonton will turn it around after a seven-year playoff drought, pointing to new general manager Craig MacTavish and first-year head coach Dallas Eakins as men who can help the Oilers get over the hump.
“This year is sure to be sparkling,” Yakupov said. “If we don’t get into the playoffs, then you’ve got to wonder. We’ve reshuffled, management has changed … something has to happen this season in terms of taking a step forward.”