Sherwood Park, AB - Nail Yakupov sure knows how to work a crowd. The 700-plus in attendance Monday morning at Milennium Place in Sherwood Park will attest to that. (As an aside, it's pretty impressive how such a large crowd will come out to watch a midsummer scrimmage in a chilly hockey rink on July 2nd -- a stat holiday, no less, on a 20-degree day. Way to go, Edmonton!)
Yakupov scored three goals in a short succession -- sliding, dancing and fist-pumping with a unique celebration for each. Then in a post-game shootout, he slalomed his way in slowly on Olivier Roy before rifling a shot upstairs to put a stamp on Development Camp.
The crowd absolutely loved it, erupting in cheers not heard since the Oilers' last home game in early April. I was standing down in the corner near the locker rooms next to the team's coaching and player development staff. Yakupov's shootout goal impressed them too, as I glanced over and saw smiles and laughter among them all.
But is there a point where it becomes too much? Or is the setting perfect for it? I asked Head Coach Ralph Krueger his thoughts on Yakupov's obvious passion and enthusiasm:
"He's entertaining," Krueger laughed. "His spirit and love for the game comes through in that. How he will function in the mature, older group at training camp will be a lot different based on the conversations I had with him here. We've connected well the past few days and I know he was trying to make sure everyone was having fun.
"His speed and his intensity is prevalent at all times. You don't play with that skill level if you're not practicing at a high level, and you can see that whether he's in the gym at Rexall or here on the ice -- he was always working at high intensity. He's also very generous in the way he tried to make plays for other players. Not only did we see a goal-scorer this week, but we saw a playmaker."
For the most part, his teammates were loving it too. What do you think about Yakupov's celebrations out there? He certainly has a diverse arsenal of them!
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com