Edmonton Oilers Nail Yakupov takes the tape off of his stick during the Oilers NHL training camp in Edmonton

Edmonton Oilers Nail Yakupov takes the tape off of his stick during the Oilers NHL training camp in Edmonton

Oilers ready to take next step with talented young lineup

EDMONTON — After three woebegone seasons of futility, the Edmonton Oilers are no longer bringing a knife to a gunfight. The Oilers open the abbreviated NHL season Sunday with high hopes centred around a core of young sharpshooters, notably the latest No. 1 overall draft pick, Nail Yakupov.

EDMONTON — After three woebegone seasons of futility, the Edmonton Oilers are no longer bringing a knife to a gunfight.

The Oilers open the abbreviated NHL season Sunday with high hopes centred around a core of young sharpshooters, notably the latest No. 1 overall draft pick, Nail Yakupov.

Rookie head coach Ralph Krueger says a fast start is critical, given the team has a killer 17-day, nine-game road trip in late February.

“It’s going to be a good opportunity at the start with 10 home and seven road games to establish a good base,” Krueger said.

“We feel good about the schedule.”

Fans are also feeling very good about Yakupov, the bushy-browed Russian teenager with a sweet set of hands and a reputation as half puck wizard, half showboat.

For his part, the 19-year-old has kept his head down and his nose clean at training camp, sticking to pabulum bromides on working hard.

“We have a lot of skilled players and we will work pretty well this year,” he told reporters.

Yakupov knows the heat is on after a so-so performance for his country at the recent world junior championships and controversy over comments in his native tongue that Canucks play “dirty.”

In a testament to the Oilers’ newfound skill level, Yakupov is not even slotted in on the first line.

That honour has gone to NHL sophomore and fellow teenager Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Burnaby, B.C., native — the first overall pick in 2011 — centres the top line with 2010 overall No. 1 Taylor Hall on left wing and Jordan Eberle on the right.

The trio is expected to make up for its lack of size and experience with dynamite scoring potential.

All three played together in Oklahoma City for the Oilers farm team during the 113-day lockout.

Eberle led the way with 25 goals and 51 points in 34 games. This week he was named the Oilers’ assistant captain.

Nugent-Hopkins is coming off a promising rookie season of 18 goals and 52 points in 62 games.

Hall was second in team scoring to Eberle with 27 goals in 61 games last season, and didn’t start playing this year until November as he recuperated from shoulder surgery.

Yakupov is penciled in on the left wing with Sam Gagner at centre and veteran Ales Hemsky on the right. Captain Shawn Horcoff is expected to centre the third line flanked by the redoubtable Ryan Smyth to his left and big-bodied Finn Teemu Hartikainen on the right.

Arguably the biggest off-season addition to the Oilers was defenceman Justin Schultz.

A 22-year-old free agent sought widely for his laser-beam breakout passes, Schultz snubbed other suitors last summer to sign with Edmonton.

The hope is that Schultz will ignite rushes with passes that in recent years have too often have forced Oiler forwards building up speed through the neutral zone to reach waaaay back for the puck or see it clink off the back of their skates.

Schultz was an American Hockey League star for Oklahoma City in the lockout, racking up 18 goals and 48 points and pushing Eberle for the scoring lead.

Krueger, however, says the six-foot-one, 163-pound Schultz will, like all rookie rearguards, learn that life at hockey’s top rung is a grind.

“He’s going to have some adjustments to make here. We’re going to be patient with him and everybody needs to be patient with him,” Krueger said.

“We’re very confident he’s going to become a top player, but he needs his time to deal with the game without the puck. It will be a lot more challenging here. The physical battles down low in our end will be a lot more difficult.”

Joining Schultz on the top three defence pairings are veterans Ladislav Smid, Jeff Petry, Ryan Whitney, Nick Schultz and newly acquired Mark Fistric. Ther blue-line corps could turn out either strong or fragile, as it’s vulnerable to a steep drop off if injuries mount.

In goal, 26-year old Devan Dubnyk takes over as the No. 1. He is expected to play two thirds of the 48 games with the rest going to the aging but still occasionally brilliant Nikolai Khabibulin.

Oddsmakers have the Oilers leaping up to the middle of the NHL standings, and the first playoff spot since 2006 looms.

If they fizzle, it will be because they lost a lot of 6-5 hockey games with fans walking out buzzing about two highlight reel goals.

Given the frozen wasteland of recent campaigns, Oiler fans can probably live with that.

Just Posted

Supporters dance during a rally against measures taken by government and health authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19 at the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror, Alta., on Saturday, May 8, 2021. RCMP say they have ticketed four people after the rally that was attended by hundreds.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta leadership responsible for protests against public health orders: expert

EDMONTON — A criminologist says a recent court order that allows Alberta… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives at the 2021 budget in Edmonton, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.
Kenney distances himself from caucus vote to turf dissidents with ‘personal agendas’

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is distancing himself from a decision… Continue reading

Rental units in Red Deer continued to be some of the most affordable in Canada, according to the National Rent Report from Rental.ca. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)
Red Deer rent up year over year, still among lowest in Canada

Rent in Red Deer is up nearly six per cent but is… Continue reading

Rebels logo.
Red Deer Rebels trade last year’s first overall selection in U.S. Prospects Draft

The Red Deer Rebels have traded their first overall selection from the… Continue reading

Bo’s Bar and Grill owner Brennen Wowk said the hospitality industry is looking for more clarity from the province around what conditions must be met to allow for restaurants reopening. (Advocate file photo)
Frustated restaurant owners want to know government’s reopening plan

Restaurant owners feel they are in lockdown limbo

Alberta’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday, July 6, 2020. A judge is expected to rule this morning on a challenge of the United Conservative government’s inquiry into whether foreign groups have conspired against Alberta’s oil industry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Judge dismisses attempt to quash ‘anti-Alberta’ activities inquiry

CALGARY — A judge has dismissed an attempt to quash the United… Continue reading

Unifor National President Jerry Dias is seen at a meeting in Toronto, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. The head of the country’s largest private-sector union says Parliament should raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, and possibly put future increases into the hands of an independent commission. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Business, labour groups clash at Senate committee over $15 federal minimum wage

OTTAWA — The head of the country’s largest private-sector union says Parliament… Continue reading

In this file photo dated Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, doses of AstraZeneca vaccines for COVID-19 sit in vials at the Fiocruz Foundation after being bottled in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Some health experts are questioning Canada's decision to accept thousands of doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine this week just for them to sit in freezers in an Ontario warehouse because provinces have shunned the idea of using any more of them for first doses. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Bruna Prado, FILE
Experts call on Canada to use COVAX doses of AstraZeneca or give them back

OTTAWA — Some health experts are questioning Canada’s decision to accept thousands… Continue reading

In this image from video, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, April 23, 2020. A U.S. lawmaker who has made a political crusade out of getting the border with Canada reopened is once again pressing his case with President Joe Biden. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-House Television via AP
New CDC guidance makes it clear: time to reopen Canada-U.S. border, congressman says

WASHINGTON — A U.S. lawmaker who has made a political crusade out… Continue reading

A used protective face mask is seen discarded on the ground in Vancouver, B.C. in May 2020. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Medical exception letters required for Albertans who don’t wear masks in public areas

EDMONTON — Alberta has moved to close loopholes people might use as… Continue reading

Team Canada’s head coach Troy Ryan talks with players before the start of the of the Rivalry Series at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, February 3, 2020. Ryan of Spryfield, N.S., has been named head coach of Canada’s women’s hockey team for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Troy Ryan to coach Canadian women’s hockey team in 2022 Winter Olympics

Ryan was Canada’s assistant coach from 2016 to 2019

FILE- In this April 19, 2021, file photo, people wearing masks as a precaution against the coronavirus wait to test for COVID-19 at a hospital in Hyderabad, India. Misinformation about the coronavirus is surging in India as the death toll from COVID-19 rises. Fueled by anguish, distrust and political polarization, the claims are further compounding India’s crisis. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A, File)
Misinformation surges amid India’s COVID-19 calamity

Distrust of Western vaccines and health care also driving misinformation

Most Read