One of the best things about Nail Yakupov is the company he keeps. Yakupov’s agent is the brilliant hockey man Igor Larionov, who spent his career earning the reputation as the "thinking man’s hockey player"–his positioning was the stuff of legends. When Larionov speaks on any hockey subject it is worth a listen; when he’s discussing the Oilers #1 overall pick from 2012, it is best to listen closely.
Recently, several articles have cropped up about Larionov and his relationship with Yakupov. As a fan, I find this fascinating–what fan wouldn’t want a brilliant mentor like Larionov helping the youngster along.
Derek Van Diest of the Edmonton Sun has a fine read here and if features some excellent insight into the young Russian winger. Larionov reveals that the first choice for this winter (aside from the NHL) was for Nail to play with the kids in OKC–and what an addition he’d have been to the all-star cast featured with the Barons! The second choice was playing against men in the KHL, and the results have been impressive.
- Larionov: “He’s got more goals than (Alexander) Ovechkin, more goals than (Pavel) Datsyuk, more goals than (Evgeni) Malkin, so that tells you that he’s right there. He’s playing not on the best team in the KHL, in his hometown, but he’s making a big difference helping his team win hockey games and keeping them in the playoff hunt.”
The underrated Joanne Ireland also has an article up on the subject and she focuses on the mentor role played by Larionov. She also gets to the heart of the matter in regard to Yakupov’s performance in the Subway Super Series (4, 2-2-4) and tells us what he expects to see in Edmonton.
- Larionov: “When he steps on the ice (tonight), they’ll send one or two guys to shadow him and he’ll have to find a way to get away. When he plays in Edmonton, there will be five guys (who are dangerous) and you can’t shadow all five. It’s like playing the KLM line. It’s impossible."
I don’t want to oversell the influence that Igor Larionov is having, hell Nail Yakupov is a strong personality in his own right. Our own Andrey Osadchenko had a wonderful article up awhile back here at Oilers Nation that gave us insight into the player and his KHL season.
- Yakupov: "Of course, it’s very different. I mean, this is the men’s league. They think differently but still got good speed. You can feel that. You can also feel some sort of a man’s strength, you know? You can feel it in every KHL player. This is really interesting to me. I like it. We have a great team. Everybody helped me around in the first couple of games so I wouldn’t feel lost. There was a lot of moral support. Then I scored my first goal and felt more comfortable. I got a hang of it. I started being initiative every now and then. I tried to help my team and we finally managed to win a game on home ice. It felt pretty good."
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
When you’re young, things can get a little hairy. Sometimes things come at you at such a fast pace that one can be overwhelmed. Nail Yakupov looks to me as though he can negotiate very well for his age, but having Larionov close at hand is a very positive thing. Add to that his enormous knowledge of hockey, the NHL, and the transition from junior to pro and this is a wonderful relationship for all involved, including the Oilers and their fans.