Dauphin pushing for Coyotes roster spot
GLENDALE, Ariz. — When Coyotes coach Dave Tippett drops hints, he doesn’t drop them with ulterior motives or agendas in mind. He drops them as if to say, “hey, pay attention here.”
So when Tippett mentioned center Laurent Dauphin, unsolicited, as a guy who has impressed him at training camp, it was worth taking note.
“He just recognizes he has the skill set and the mind set to be an NHL player,” Tippett said Friday of the 2013 second-round (39th overall) pick. “It’s just a matter of when he gets here. He comes in with that confidence and it shows in the (preseason) games.”
It’s no secret the Coyotes have a pair of roster spots open at center. Martin Hanzal and Brad Richardson are locks, but the other two spots are open to competition between much-hyped prospects Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, and oft-overlooked prospects like Dauphin.
“With all those first round picks and big names, I just want to do my job,” Dauphin said Saturday night after the Coyotes’ 3-2 overtime win over Anaheim at Gila River Arena. “If they’re better offensively, I need to do something else to stay here, whether it’s killing penalties or my work ethic.”
Dauphin had some rough patches the last few years. He had shoulder surgery to repair his right labrum two seasons ago, an ordeal that cost him 15 pounds of weight, plus additional other health issues.
Last season, just as camp was getting going, Dauphin had to return home for personal reasons just before he was preparing for a media interview. The lost time didn’t help him at camp and he returned to the American Hockey League, where he had 11 goals and 24 points in 66 games for Springfield.
“I think the best things for me in the AHL were the pace of the game and just learning to be a good pro,” he said. “It was just good to see how tough it is to stay here.”
If Dauphin were to make the roster this season, it might mean taking a spot from Dvorak or Strome. That wouldn’t sit well with a fan base anxious to see more skill in the lineup, but Tippett and Coyotes Director of Player Development Steve Sullivan don’t concern themselves with fan evaluations of players. They concern themselves with what their trained eyes are seeing on the ice, and what the video-drawn analytics are telling them about what they see on the ice.
“I’m a big fan of Laurent Dauphin,” Sullivan said. “He’s not as explosive or dynamic as Max Domi. It’s more a case where at the end of a game, when you rewatch the tape, that’s when you see all the good things he does in a hockey game.”
Two things the Coyotes wanted Dauphin to work on were gaining weight and strength, and improving his shot. He hired a new trainer a year ago, one who has stressed flexibility, durability and balance, as much as weight training.
“It has made a big difference,” said Dauphin, who worked out this summer in Montreal with other NHL players such as Jonathan Drouin and Xavier Ouelett. “I’m looking forward to continuing here.”
Dauphin isn’t certain of all the details Tippett is seeing in his game so far, but he is making sure he takes care of the broader brush strokes.
“I think it’s work ethic and proving I can be competitive and consistent in this league — that I can play 82 games a year,” he said. “I have more patience and confidence in myself. I think that’s what they see.”
Peterborough native Mitchell Stephens named captain of OHL’s Saginaw Spirit
Peterborough native Mitchell Stephens was named Tuesday as the 2016-17 captain of the Ontario Hockey League’s Saginaw Spirit.
Stephens, 19, is in his fourth year with the Spirit was a second-round, 33rd overall pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL entry draft.
“We feel that our team has a strong leadership core and that Mitchell will do a great job leading that group. His skill and ability speaks for itself but what I’ve really enjoyed observing is his incredible competiveness to be the best and a desire to win that I want all our players to possess.” Spirit head coach Spencer Carbery stated.
The Peterborough Petes will face Stephens and the Spirit on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Memorial Centre.
Stephens was a gold medal winner at the 2014 Ivan Hlinka Tournament and a bronze medal winner at the Under-18 World Juniors in 2015. He also competed in the 2016 World Junior Championship, where he scored a goal and an assist for Canada. He was at the world junior team’s camp over the summer.
The 5’11″, 190-pound centre has 51 goals and 56 assists in his first three years in the OHL.
The 2013 first round pick of the Spirit had his 2015-16 season hampered by a broken foot, forcing him out of the lineup for nearly two months. Stephens responded by scoring 38 points in 39 games, leading the Spirit to their 11th consecutive playoff berth.
Ottawa Senators defenceman Thomas Chabot looks to nail down NHL spot
Thomas Chabot is still with the Senators.
Whether he’s here to start the season Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs at home has yet to be finalized but with one exhibition game left Friday against the Buffalo Sabres at the Canadian Tire Centre, his chances are good.
While the Senators are no longer pursuing unrestricted free agent blueliner Kris Russell and the plan is to keep eight defencemen, coach Guy Boucher indicated the organization would like to see the 19-year-old Chabot one more time in the pre-season before making a decision.
“Camp’s not finished,” Boucher said Thursday. “We’ve got numbers down but camp’s not finished and different things can happen.”
Though Boucher said Tuesday in Saskatoon the Senators will keep 12 forwards and eight defencemen to start the season, that’s not written in stone because those numbers could change depending on injuries. Chabot has been strong offensively but still needs to prove he can play both ends.
“He still needs to show us defensively that he can be thrown on the ice. We don’t want to be closing our eyes every time he goes on the ice. That’s the thing. He’s a great player, very smart, great speed, he can transition the puck exactly the way you want in the NHL,” said Boucher.
“But he has to be able to be sent on the ice knowing he has the basic skills and the intensity and strength to defend against NHL players. In that respect there has been ups and downs. On the offensive side, with the puck, breakouts and stuff, it’s a no-brainer.
“With him, and you saw it again this morning, I’m pushing him. We’re not treating him like a kid. We don’t want kids. We want players who are ready. So if he’s young, he needs to be ready. Right now, he’s shown us a lot of good staff and that’s why he’s still here, but camps not over.”
There’s a strong chance Chabot will start the year here and not get sent back to the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs just yet. The Senators can keep him for nine games before his contract officially kicks in and they’ll probably go that route because GM Pierre Dorion has liked Chabot’s “poise”.
Dorion said Thursday the Senators are “out” on Russell but didn’t want to get into the specifics of why.
Chabot is taking nothing for granted, but he was skating in the third pairing with Mark Borowiecki on Thursday while Fredrik Claesson and Chris Wideman made up the fourth group.
“I didn’t get any confirmation I’m part of the team yet,” Chabot said. “I’m enjoying it. I’m trying to get better. There’s a lot of experience on the coaching staff and it’s good for me because they help me a lot. I’m trying to learn as much as I can.”
Captain Erik Karlsson has been impressed with what Chabot has shown.
“He’s playing with a lot of skill,” said Karlsson. “He works hard and, at the same time, I think he sees the ice well. He wants to make plays. That’s what we’re looking for in a player like that.
“He’s definitely able to move the puck and if something goes wrong he’s mature enough to put himself in the right position to back it up. He’s playing with his head up. That’s always appreciated on any team.”
After slow start, forward Christian Thomas makes his case for roster spot
KANSAS CITY – Christian Thomas spotted his father during warmups, exchanging a glance but staying on his half of the ice. They had talked before the game, father asking son how things were going in a new organization and then wishing him luck.
Christian Thomas is vying for a depth forward spot with the Washington Capitals. Steve Thomas is an assistant coach for the St. Louis Blues. St. Louis’s 4-2 loss to the Capitals at the Sprint Center on Wednesday night was likely bittersweet for Steve, as his team’s exhibition loss featured a two-goal performance by Christian.
“It was probably a tough game for him to watch,” Christian Thomas said.
After what Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said was a slow start in training camp, Washington held off on waiving Thomas because of a strong practice this week. He might have bought himself more time with his play on Wednesday night, gelling well on a line with center Jay Beagle and winger Daniel Winnik.
“Competing for a spot here, I’m trying to give them every chance to not send me down,” Thomas said. “I’m trying to make a statement with this little time we have. Hopefully, I can play well enough and earn a spot on this team.”
The Capitals are expected to have just one opening on the roster, at 14th forward. Prospect Zach Sanford is considered the favorite, but with wingers Tom Wilson and Marcus Johansson both nursing injuries, Washington could opt for a veteran player over a rookie. Thomas would be exposed to waivers if he were sent down.
“He started a little bit slowly, and there wasn’t much going on in the Montreal [preseason] game,” Trotz said. “He practiced really well the other day, and we said, ‘We’ve got to give him another shot.’ He was probably the best guy at practice the other day, especially at forward. I said, ‘Hey, let’s give him another shot.’ Put him in, and that line was really good. They were buzzing, and they were very effective.”
Washington signed Thomas to a one-year, two-way deal on the first day of free agency. The 24-year-old registered two assists in six games with the Arizona Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens in 2015-16. He was traded from Montreal to Arizona on Dec. 15 for Lucas Lessio. Thomas was drafted by the Rangers in the second round, 40th overall, in the 2010 NHL draft, and he scored 21 points (10 goals and 11 assists) in 34 AHL games with Springfield and St. John’s last season. He has earned 107 points (52 goals and 55 assists) in 219 career AHL games with Connecticut, Hamilton, St. John’s and Springfield.
“I was battling there in Montreal; I was always that last guy that was getting cut and coming up throughout the season to get a good chance to play,” Thomas said. “But hopefully this season, I can make a statement and earn a spot and stay here the whole year.”
Both of Thomas’s goals were assisted by Beagle and Winnik. His first goal, a one-timer set up by Winnik, gave Washington a 2-1 lead in the first period. Winnik fed Thomas the puck in the slot for his second goal and a 4-1 lead.
“It’s easy to play with a guy who works hard,” Beagle said. “He likes to buzz around and wins battles and recovers pucks really well, and obviously, can bury. He’s fun to play with and is a good player. It was great to see him, just wish we could’ve got the third one for him.”
Blues Acquire Yakupov From Oilers
St. Louis Blues
ST. LOUIS – St. Louis Blues President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Doug Armstrong announced today the Blues have acquired 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for forward Zach Pochiro and a conditional 2017 third round draft pick.
Yakupov, 23, dressed in 60 regular season games with the Oilers last season, posting 23 points, including eight goals and 15 assists.
Overall, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound forward has appeared in four NHL seasons, accumulating 111 points, including 50 goals and 61 assists, in 252 career regular season games.
Internationally, the Nizhnekamsk, Russia, native is a three-time medalist with Team Russia, earning bronze at the 2011 U-18 World Junior Championships and silver at the 2012 U-20 World Junior Championships, before capturing bronze as team captain at the 2013 U-20 World Junior Championships.
Prior to his professional career, Yakupov spent two seasons with the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Sarnia Sting. During the 2010-11 season, he tallied 101 points, including 49 goals and 52 assists, in 65 games, earning Rookie of the Year honors in both the OHL and the Canadian Hockey League (CHL).
Yakupov Conference Call
After seven months of ‘nothing but work,’ Tyler Seguin is ready to play pivotal role for banged up Stars
Tyler Seguin was trying to unravel the events of the past seven months, searching for an explanation to injuries to his Achilles tendon, calf and ankle; pondering why he was forced to miss the Stars’ playoff run last spring and the World Cup of Hockey in September.
“I’m just hoping that this all happened for a reason,” Seguin told Stars broadcaster Daryl Reaugh. “I’m hoping karma is working somewhere in there, and now it’s time for some good karma. I’m hoping all the bad is behind me.”
Now would be a good time for that. With Dallas battling all manner of injury, a healthy Seguin is a big part of a quick start to the season that begins Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks.
Seguin is the fourth-leading scorer in the NHL over the past three seasons, and Dallas is missing Mattias Janmark (knee), Cody Eakin (knee) and Valeri Nichushkin (Russia) from the top six forward group. That means Seguin in the No. 1 center spot is desperately needed.
“It’s really important,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “With Janmark and Eakin missing, we have a big hole. We’ve had the likes of [Adam] Cracknell and [Gemel] Smith and [Justin] Dowling playing a lot at center in the preseason, so to get him back is really important. It’s really important on Thursday that he’s playing well for us.”
Seguin said he plans to be. The 24-year-old was having another point-a-game season in 2015-16 when the skate blade of Tampa Bay’s Anton Stralman sliced the Achilles tendon on his right leg March 18. The original diagnosis was 3-4 weeks and Seguin pushed hard to get back into the playoffs and played in Game 2 against Minnesota April 16.
However, he suffered a calf injury in that game and missed the remainder of the playoffs.
He then worked all summer to get ready for an important role on Team Canada in the World Cup of Hockey, but slid feet first into the end boards in an exhibition game against Team USA on Sept. 9 and suffered a hairline fracture of the heel. In addition to ending a dream for Seguin to represent his country and win a gold medal, the fluke injury was just one more brick of negativity in what has been one of the more frustrating seasons for the youngster who has already logged 426 NHL games.
“It’s disappointing,” he said. “I don’t know any other way to say it.”
Well, what about frustrating, painful, scary? Seguin said there’s a little of all of that, but he’s not worried about his future. He said he bounced back from the Achilles and calf injuries and was skating great during training camp for the World Cup, so he expects to recover from the heel injury quickly.
“I’ve gotten better every day, and I’m going to trust the process,” Seguin said. “I feel good.”
Ruff said he believes Seguin will bounce back. He said he’s not worried about the injury affecting the trademark speed of his No. 1 center and said he believes the team has handled the rehab well. Now, as for that good karma thing?
“It’s been a little bit of a run of bad luck,” Ruff said when asked about the cumulative effect. “He’s skating really well right now, he’s gotten through it. Let’s just hope that’s the end of it.”
Seguin is a huge part of the top scoring team in the NHL. He tallied 73 points (33 goals, 40 assists) in 72 games last season and has 234 points (107 goals, 127 assists) in 223 games since joining Dallas in a 2013 trade from Boston.
“He’s one of the elite scorers in the league, one of the better shooters. He can do it all,” said center Jason Spezza. “He requires a lot of attention from the other team, so he makes everybody better when he’s out there.”
Ruff has pushed Seguin to become a strong two-way player in their three seasons together, but even he admits the strength of the talented forward is in his offensive game.
“He’s one of the most dynamic players I’ve been around,” Ruff said. “He might have the quickest, hardest wrist shot I’ve seen in the game, and he’s a dynamic skater. When he has his A game, I don’t know that there’s a guy who can skate better and shoot quicker and harder than him.”
So now it’s time to find his A game. Seguin said he’s ready to get going, ready to play an important game, ready to play any game. He’s waited long enough.
“I need to play, I just really need to play,” he said. “It will be nice to get back in a rhythm of playing hockey. It’s been seven months of nothing but work, so I’m very much looking forward to playing a game.”
Verhaeghe plans for more-confident start with Sound Tigers
BRIDGEPORT — The transition from junior to pro hockey is different for everyone. Some players get handed roles they may or may not be ready for; some get a slower development path. Whichever way they’re sent, some thrive; some need time.
After they got him in a trade a year ago, the New York Islanders sent Carter Verhaeghe to the ECHL to begin his rookie year. He’s back for his second pro season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers with more confidence from the experience.
“I learned quite a bit (with Missouri). I came back up and started playing well,” Verhaeghe said. “I was thankful to get that opportunity to show what I could do.”
Verhaeghe scored 15 points in 30 games last season, getting some power-play time and some time on top lines. He said he put on 10 or 15 pounds over the summer; he’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 193 pounds.
“I think Hages last year had a year of growth and development,” Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson said. “His offensive vision, his offensive gifts haven’t changed. He can make plays. He seems more attentive to the defensive zone.”
Verhaeghe, 21, scored 82 points in each of his last two seasons of junior hockey.
Consistency in his all-around game will be important, as it is for all young players. Thompson liked Verhaeghe’s game in the first and third periods of Saturday’s exhibition game but thought his second period was less consistent.
“It’s a big year for him,” Thompson said. “It’s a challenge for young guys to step up: ‘Can I get this done, that kind of well-rounded game?’
“He’s got a great attitude,” Thompson added. “He works hard.”
Bridgeport’s forward lines didn’t appear set yet as the Sound Tigers move closer to the start of the regular season this weekend. Verhaeghe in mid-practice slipped into a spot vacated when Bracken Kearns, who left the last exhibition game early with a lower-body injury, left practice. Thompson said that, like Saturday, Kearns’ departure was precautionary.
Wherever he winds up, “I’m ready to get it going right from the start,” Verhaeghe said.
“It’s familiarity. It’s knowing the guys around the locker room. It’s knowing I can play in this league.”
Yakupov’s first goal as a Blue vs Wild
Yakupov postgame interview
Having fun, Ho-Sang debuts with Sound Tigers
BRIDGEPORT — Practice was over, but as his teammates cooled down with drills or games, Josh Ho-Sang took a half-dozen pucks to the left circle in the harborside end of Webster Bank Arena.
He pulled one out of the pile, toe-dragged it to his right-handed forehand, then went backhand, forehand, backhand, forehand, and then we kind of lost track of the puck for a while before he released it toward the net.
There’s those hands. There’s the end-to-end rushes. There are the 80 points each of his last three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League.
One of the most exciting prospects in hockey, Ho-Sang makes his debut Saturday with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at home against Providence. It’s his first chance as a pro to display for real the skills that have defined his game, but not himself.
“I have fun,” Ho-Sang said. “I have too much fun sometimes. That’s probably my problem.
“I can turn little things on the ice into something I can play for hours, right? I was shooting pucks in the bucket with (Devon Toews), and we played that for 10 minutes.”
Later on in practice, with another pile of pucks, Ho-Sang aimed for the photographer’s hole in the glass from about 20 feet away. It took 10 tries or so, but a puck sailed through cleanly.
That was enough. He went to the door to the dressing room, remembered his spare stick was at the bench, got it, headed off.
“I turn everything into a game,” Ho-Sang said. “It’s an asset and a downfall. But it’s what’s gotten me here.”
What seems to have come with him is a lightning rod. The time he was kept on the bench late in a playoff game with his team trailing. The time Canada left him off the junior national team. When he slipped to 28th in the 2014 draft and the New York Islanders traded up to catch him.
“What’s in the past is past,” Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson said. “He’s come with a great attitude. He’s been great here in our locker room. He’s a likeable kid.”
Ho-Sang does come across as bright, and straightforward.
“I don’t really think too much about what other people think of me,” Ho-Sang said. “I just want to help people in general. That’s part of the reason why I play hockey.
“It gives me a chance to find who I am as a person. I love hockey … but I play hockey three hours a day. There’s 24.”
Time famously caught up to him at the first day of the Islanders’ 2015 training camp. Ho-Sang was late and was sent straight back to junior hockey.
It’s not something he or Thompson dwell on, but on the first day of camp this year, Ho-Sang wasn’t afraid to have fun with himself, tweeting “I made it” with a picture of 17 alarm clocks. “That’s my sense of humor,” he said.
Ho-Sang said Bridgeport’s coaching staff has helped with his adjustment to the pro game, that Thompson and assistant Eric Boguniecki have helped him develop, and assistant Matt Carkner, just retired as a player, has made communication easy.
“I’m excited to have him,” Thompson said. “I’m excited to work with him, to develop him, work on what he needs to be in the NHL, the right habits away from the puck.”
What is Ho-Sang focused on?
“Just get better,” Ho-Sang said. “Just be so good they can’t send you down.”
Seguin goals vs Avalanche
Ouellet shines but Wings endure growing pains on ‘D’
Detroit —These are important games for Red Wings young defenseman Xavier Ouellet, and he is performing well.
Ouellet played only five games last season for the Wings — Alexey Marchenko eased ahead of him on the depth chart — but Ouellet earned an All-Star nod for his fine season in the AHL.
Now, the 23-year-old seeks to stake his claim on a permanent roster spot, but he also needs to help lift the team, in the absence of the Niklas Kronwall, amid clear growing pains on the blue line.
“I think I am playing well,” said Ouellet, a native of Bayonne, France, who grew up in Terrebonne, Quebec. “I think I’m doing what I’ve got to do.
“I want to make sure that I gain the coach’s confidence. I want to play smart. I want to play hard. I want to be good defensively and go from there.”
After playing 21 games for the Red Wings in 2014-15, the mere handful of opportunities last season was a harsh reality, Ouellet said.
“It was tough mentally,” he said. “But you need to accept it and keep working and not quit. I wanted to be here. I’m getting the opportunity now, and I want to do something about it.”
Coach Jeff Blashill said he has noted Ouellet’s efforts.
“I think he’s played two strong games,” said Blashill, who is looking for more assertiveness from his defensive corps in their own zone, quicker exits and a better push on the transition through the neutral zone.
“I think him and (Jonathan) Ericsson have both played two real strong games.”
The Red Wings defense was hard-pressed in the first two games of the season, both losses in which the team spent a disproportionate amount of time in their own zone. Simply getting possession of the puck and moving it swiftly out and through the neutral zone was more often an ambition than an accomplishment.
It was a deterioration of their performance from last season, which was below par for the Red Wings’ defensive unit.
Ouellet, another in a long line of Wings’ over-ripe prospects, hopes to help.
“When you play a lot in your zone, it’s hard,” Ouellet said. “You get tired and you have less energy to make plays offensively. So, we need to find a way to get out of our zone.”
Meanwhile, if Ouellet does not make the roster, as Kronwall returns, he would be exposed to waivers, having run out of options to return to Grand Rapids.
“Obviously, I have no control over this, except just trying to help this team win games right now,” he said.
Ouellet, a 2011 second-round pick, 48th overall, was the Wings’ highest-drafted defenseman since Brendan Smith in the first round, 27th overall, in 2007.
In 2005, they drafted Jakub Kindl in the first round, 19th overall. Kindl never quite worked out, was traded to the Panthers for a late draft choice last season and now plays for their AHL club, the Springfield Thunderbirds.
If exposed to waivers, Ouellet almost certainly would be claimed by another team.
Throughout his junior and AHL career, Ouellet provided evidence he is responsible defensively, tough physically and capable of providing some offense.
Playing for Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as a 19-year-old in 2011-12, he was the team’s second leading scorer with 21 goals and 39 assists in 63 games.
In 61 games with the Griffins last year, he had four goals, 25 assists and was a plus-18.
If Ouellet fulfills his promise, he projects as a second- or third-pair defenseman who can contribute on offense, perhaps to the point of a significant amount of time on the power play.
“I’m trying to play really strong defensively, make sure I make the right play,” he said. “But as a D-corps, we need to pick it up.
“We need to play better as a unit, as a group and find a way to not give them any goals.”
Senators defenceman Thomas Chabot makes NHL debut
The waiting game ended for Thomas Chabot.
The rookie defenceman, who has been a healthy scratch for three straight games, made his NHL debut Tuesday night against the Arizona Coyotes.
Chabot, 19, was among the seven blueliners that will suit up against the Coyotes, while wingers Matt Puempel and Phil Varone were healthy scratches with the Senators coming off a 5-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings Monday.
Chabot, who still has junior eligibility left, was excited to get his chance.
“It’s something special for me and my family,” Chabot said. “Since I was 5-years-old I’ve been saying I want to play in the NHL one day and tonight I have the chance to play my first game so it’s something special.”
Coach Guy Boucher was trying to keep Chabot grounded.
“(He shouldn’t) try to overdo things,” Boucher said. “It’s always the same. Guys think I’m getting my chance and now they need to do extraordinary things. What’s extraordinary is when you do ordinary things really well and that’s the message.”
Yakupov returns to where it started
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
EDMONTON, Alberta • Nail Yakupov couldn’t wait. It was Oct. 7 and his parents, father Rail and mother Gulnaz, would be in Edmonton in just two days. He hadn’t seen them in months.
“We booked the tickets and everything,” he said. “Then, I got traded. I know it’s life and everything, but I haven’t seen my parents. When you’re waiting for something, and it’s so close and you lose it … that was kind of tough. But I’m not young, right? I lived without my parents. I left my country when I was 16. So you have to wait a little more.”
The wait ended Wednesday when the Blues arrived in Edmonton, where they’ll face the Oilers at 8 p.m. Thursday at Rogers Place.
Yakupov’s reunion with his parents was one of two that will take place for the native of Nizhnekamsk, Russia, who was the No. 1 draft pick in 2012 and spent four seasons as an Oiler before this month’s trade to St. Louis. This Alberta city was home for him, or at least he tried to make it feel that way as a 19-year-old living under a microscope.
That first season, his rookie year in 2012-13, Yakupov showed that it might be the start of a long stay in Edmonton, netting 17 goals and 31 points in the lockout-shortened 48-game season. But as losses became as common as a bitter-cold day in this wintry region of Canada, his numbers tumbled like the temperatures — just 33 goals and 80 points in the next 204 games.
“He was young when he came in, so his family was there … his mom was driving to the rink his first couple of years,” said Blues forward David Perron, who was teammates with Yakupov in Edmonton at the time. “Then when it wasn’t going as well for him, he started building a shell a little bit. I think it’s maybe natural when you’re young to do that.”
No one in Edmonton ever questioned Yakupov’s heart. In 2015, while Yakupov was driving through the city, a homeless man approached his car asking for help. The winger got out of his car and went the extra mile, giving him $100 for a meal and more for a night’s stay in a local hotel.
“I asked, ‘Are you hungry?’” Yakupov said. “He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Do you want to eat?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah.’ We went into the CHOP (restaurant) and I said, ‘Go wash your hands.’ I was just trying to help people. I just give him food. It’s not a big deal for me, but for him, I think it was huge.”
Reminded of his reputation as a good person, he replied: “Thanks to my parents.”
But could Yakupov, who was Edmonton’s third straight No. 1 overall pick, feed the Oilers fans who were hungry for the postseason? With a young roster, a carousel of coaches and ever-changing systems, it was a challenge. The locker room lacked the standard seen in St. Louis, and Yakupov didn’t always work hard enough to improve it, drawing his share of criticism.
“I don’t want to cry over it, like falling on my knees,” he said. “It’s life, it’s business. I don’t really want to talk about what happened. Sometimes you’re going to have good days and bad days. The years I had in the past probably made me stronger — I hope so, I believe so, I know so.
“Mentally it was really hard to go through some things. I tried to do my best, but sometimes you can’t control everything. Our job is to play and work hard, like I do, try to be the good teammate and try to play the system we play as a team.”
Now with another No. 1 pick in town — Connor McDavid, who was the Oilers’ fourth top selection in six years — it was time for a change of scenery for Yakupov. Chicago was considered the front-runner, but the Blues swept in at the last moment and made the deal.
At 23, he packed his bags and headed to St. Louis, leaving town just two days before his parents arrived. In his second game in a Blues uniform, his first at Scottrade Center, he scored a goal and assisted on the game-winner in a 3-2 victory over Minnesota.
“The Blues got me for a reason,” Yakupov said. “I don’t think it’s for luck or something. St. Louis wants more and that’s why I’m here. It’s good to be part of it, it’s a good example for you to see where you are and how quick you can be the piece to the puzzle for the team. I’m understanding where I am and I’m happy to be here.”
The Blues aren’t looking for a No. 1 pick to lead the way. They have 12 first-round picks on their roster who can do that.
“We don’t need saving,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “ “We just need another guy to fit into our team. As long as he works hard and is a good teammate, that’s what we’re looking for. He’s got an element we need. He’s got some speed and ability to make plays off the rush. The only expectation is to fit in. Where he got drafted, what year he got drafted for us in St. Louis is irrelevant.”
After all, it’s just a number, says Yakupov, who brushes off the talk that he’s been a bust.
“I’m not trying to protect myself against those words,” he said. “They’re going to affect you, but I’m not thinking about that. The team that had the first chance to pick you picked you. One team picked me, they tried to do something and I tried my best, and it seems like we didn’t (click).
“But I don’t (need to prove) anything to anyone, I just want to be myself and to help my team, the St. Louis Blues, to play good. I’m going to do my best to try and win every game and just keep moving forward. And I have other things to think about. It’s not just about hockey; I have a life, too.”
Dauphin goal vs Canadiens
Yakupov goal vs Oilers
Seguin goal vs Jets
Seguin goal vs Jets
Irwin Remembers San Jose
Matt Irwin had to think twice about his sense of direction on Saturday morning.
The Predators defenseman began his NHL career in San Jose with the Sharks, skating parts of three seasons with the club, starting in 2012. So when he entered SAP Center for the morning skate, a flood of memories came back in his first NHL home.
“You go right instead of left when you walk in the building,” Irwin quipped. “But we got in the city yesterday and it brought back some good memories. I spent a lot of time in this organization, and they groomed me for what I was as a pro.”
Undrafted, Irwin caught the eye of the Sharks when he was playing collegiately at UMass, attending development camp with the team and eventually earning a contract with the then-AHL affiliate in Worcester, Massachusetts.
“I worked my way up and had two-and-a-half good years in Worcester, learned from Roy Sommer and the coaching staff there and got my opportunity in the lockout year,” Irwin said. “I got my feet wet in the League and hung on for two-and-a-half years here, some of the best years of my life.”
As Irwin reminisces today, he and his teammates turn their attention to the Sharks, and although last season’s playoff appearance is in the past, that doesn’t mean the Preds won’t use those memories for an extra jump as they hit the ice tonight.