Igor Larionov spent several seasons doing everything he could to beat the Colorado Avalanche. As a famed member of the Detroit Red Wings’ “Russian Five”, he played against Joe Sakic and the Avs in the glory years of their rivalry.

Larionov is now a player agent, and one of his clients is the Avs’ newest free-agent signing, former No. 1 pick Nail Yakupov. Larionov helped engineer the signing of Yakupov to a one-year, $875,000 “show-me” contract, and he firmly believes Yakupov can get his career back on track and helped the Avs win again.

“Nail is very happy to sign with Colorado. He’s going to prove he can be a very effective player still in this league,” said Larionov, the Hockey Hall of Famer who won three Stanley Cups with the Red Wings. “When I talked with (Sakic), the plan is for him to be a top-six winger. I think he can and will score 20-25 goals.”

Why hasn’t that happened at any point in his five-year career, with Edmonton and St. Louis? Why has Yakupov’s stock fallen so much since being drafted first overall by the Oilers in 2012, to the point where the Blues wouldn’t even give him a qualifying offer to retain his services as a restricted free agent?

Larionov is the first to admit Yakupov’s NHL career hasn’t gone the way he’s wanted. But he’s less interested in talking about the past than what a fresh start in Denver might mean.

“He could have taken a lot more money and gone back to Russia in the KHL. But he wants to show he belongs in the NHL. That’s why he is doing this,” Larionov said. “I think a team like Colorado will be good for him. He’s a young guy still and Colorado wants to get younger and faster. Maybe there will be less pressure on him than before. It’s up to him, obviously. But I think if the coaching staff really works with him, they will find he’s eager to learn and be better.”

Yakupov played under four coaches in four years with the Oilers. That did no favors to his development probably. And the Oilers probably did Yakupov no favors by rushing him into the NHL as an 18-year-old. He had 17 goals and 31 points in 48 games of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, but scored only 25 goals in 144 combined games of the next two seasons, with a combined minus-68. The Oilers’ defense and goaltending was brutal back then, so nobody had any good plus-minus numbers.

But the Oilers lost patience with his progress following another mediocre season in 2015-16 (eight goals, 23 points in 60 games) and shipped him off to St. Louis. The Blues said all the “He’s worth the risk, we’ll fix him” kinds of things the Avs might be saying now, but Yakupov quickly became buried in the lineups of coaches Ken Hitchcock and Mike Yeo, playing just 40 games, with a measly three goals and six assists. He was a healthy scratch throughout the playoffs.

Now, it’s the Avs’ turn to try and turn Yakupov into a player.

“I know Nail will work very hard to hopefully make that happen,” Larionov said. “That much I know.”

 

Adrian Dater

Adrian Dater is a staff writer with BSNDenver. He started his journalism career way, way back in 1988 as a proofreader with the Concord Monitor as a kid out of college (Keene State College), and has wended its way since with a 25-year stop at The Denver Post, 20 of which were spent as the beat writer of the Colorado Avalanche, from its inception in 1995. Adrian has also worked as a primary hockey writer with Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, The Hockey News, Versus.com and Bleacher Report. He is the author of seven sports books, including the best-selling “Blood Feud: Colorado Avalanche v. Detroit Red Wings, The Inside Story of Pro Sports’ Nastiest and Best Rivalry of Its Era” and “100 Things Avalanche Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die”, which was published in October, 2016.

  • boratbuff

    C’mon Dater, give us your opinion of the signing. You know more about hockey than the rest of us. Whaddya think?

    • Adrian Dater

      I think it’s a “what the hell?” kind of decent risk. It’s like buying a $1 scratch ticket. You probably won’t win much, but you might. And either way, you didn’t risk much

      • nemesis44uk

        I think that’s a fine way of looking at it. Well put, AD.

        Very low risk for a potentially high reward. It’ll be interesting to see where Bednar slots him into the lineup. IIRC, Nail wasn’t a big fan of the 3rd or 4th line with the grinders and bruisers, yet in no way does his form suggest a top six placement.

        Thoughts?

  • OCMS

    First things first. What’s the guy’s hockey nickname? Yaks? Povie?

    Much of this will hinge on whether or not Bednar can get him to buy into his system, which entails not flying the zone the instant a forward thinks your team has the puck. (actual puck possession not required in Roy’s system)

    From what the BSN guys say in the podcast, this is why Duchene is so frustrated in Bednar’s system. If Yakupov doesn’t like to play D, then there will be problems and healthy scratches.

  • Mczoo2

    Certainly was miss handled, as I think Eberle was. But, are they damaged goods or salvageable? My fingers are crossed and I like happy endings. Worth a shot, as we aren’t chasing the cup or contending for the division.