It goes without saying that talking the talk is one thing and walking the walk is quite another, but Nail Yakupov was saying all the right things when he met with members of the media at a hockey school being put on by the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday.
Coming off a disappointing sophomore season in which he finished with 24 points in 63 games after managing 17 goals and 31 points in 48 games as a rookie, Yakupov was upbeat as he looked ahead to what stands to be an important year in his young NHL career.
With one year left on his entry level contract, Yakupov wasn’t nearly as interested in rehashing an often-difficult season of growing pains under rookie coach Dallas Eakins as he was in looking ahead to 2014-15.
After taking some time off with family and friends in Russia, Yakupov is back in Edmonton and back on the blades getting a head start that’ll likely go a long way in determining where he fits, or doesn’t, in the plans looking ahead.
READY TO GO
“It might be a huge year for me and that’s why I’m here — to work on some things and to be here and train,” Yakupov told a scrum of reporters. “I just want to be ready for the season.
“I’m going to be doing some different things this year. I feel more comfortable here than training at home. That’s why I’m here and I will train with the Oilers prospects and the other NHL players that will come.”
On the shelf at the end of the season after taking a Justin Schultz shot off the foot March 16, Yakupov says the foot is fine and he’s getting into a regular skating and training routine. He’ll be in the mix during skating sessions as players begin filtering back into town and will take part in the annual three-on-three camp put on by Perry Pearn in preparation for training camp.
Looking ahead, the obvious challenge for Yakupov – at least in the eyes of Eakins and the coaching staff — is improving his defensive awareness and positional play away from the puck. That was a bone of contention between Eakins and Yakupov all season.
“I’m doing everything I can in order to do that,” he said. “I’m pushing myself hard and I’ll work 100 percent every day in order to get better. We’ll see what it’s going to be like this year.
“I promise I’ll work hard, play 100 percent every day. I hope it’s going to be good for me and good for the team. We have to play better than we did last year, so we’ll see how it goes.”
I’ve said in the past that Eakins and Yakupov have to get on the same page as it pertains to expectations for the coming season, and that’s likely a discussion that’ll unfold before training camp. That’s a distant second, though, to letting actions do your talking.
Seems to me Yakupov is already getting a head start on that and adding some weight to his words with the preparation he’s doing with August not yet upon us. A good sign.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.