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Nail Yakupov has productive night in home debut for St. Louis Blues

By Rob Rains, The Sports Xchange
Nail Yakupov has productive night in home debut for St. Louis Blues
St. Louis Blues' Nail Yakupov of Russia makes his first appearance as a member of the team, against the Minnesota Wild in the first period at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on October 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

ST. LOUIS -- Two games is an admittedly very small sample size, but it is enough for the St. Louis Blues to believe the addition of right winger Nail Yakupov could pay off for them.

The Blues acquired the former first overall pick in the 2012 draft from Edmonton a week ago, and he produced immediate results in his St. Louis home debut Thursday night, scoring one goal and setting up another to lead the Blues to a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild.

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Playing on the Blues third line, Yakupov blasted a slap shot through the glove of goalie Devan Dubnyk to break 1-1 tie midway through the second period. He then helped the Blues convert a 3-on-2 break in the third period, feeding a pass to left winger Magnus Paajarvi for what turned out to the game-winning goal.

Yakupov admitted the last week has been a whirlwind, but he was just happy to play a role in the Blues winning their first two games of the season for the first time since they started 4-0 in 2013.

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"I was nervous because it's the first time to play in this building with your new team, and that adds a little pressure," Yakupov said. "I know the Blues are a really good team with good guys and a family here, but when you been away for a long time, different country, different city, different friends and you know nothing outside, you are just alone. Now it's going to be much easier to sleep tonight."

He said it was the first time he had ever scored on a slap shot.

Coach Ken Hitchcock said the team's coaches watched film of two games Yakupov had played against the Blues the last two years before pulling the trigger on the trade. What he saw in person Thursday night was a verification of what he had seen on the film.

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"He's a much stronger player than people realize," Hitchcock said. "In time he looks like he might be a real good fit for us.

"What it (tonight) does is make him feel like he's part of the team. It makes him feel a part of the family. It gives him another level of confidence. The points matter but he had a lot of good play today."

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Paajarvi, who played with Yakupov in Edmonton before he also was traded to the Blues in 2013, can relate to the transitions Yakupov is having to make. Traded last Friday, Yakupov had only a couple of practices before he played his first game for the Blues on Wednesday night in Chicago.

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"All the guys have been trying to help him out with whatever it is about the town or our systems or the coaches," Paajarvi said. "So far he's been doing really good."

The Blues' first goal came from left winger Alexander Steen in the first period, when they outshot the Wild 14-2. The Wild got goals from defenseman Ryan Suter and right winger Charlie Coyle in their first game of the season.

Steen has been impressed by what he has seen from Yakupov.

"I thought his game last night too was stellar," Steen said. "Smart decisions with the puck. He's obviously individually very skilled, he makes plays in tight areas. We're happy to have him."

The loss spoiled the Wild coaching debut of Bruce Boudreau.

"I was thinking that last night was such an advantage for them to have already played a fast paced game, knowing what it is," Boudreau said. "This is not an excuse. We were a step behind it seemed all night long."

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The Blues outshot the Wild 31-21 as goalie Jake Allen earned the wins on consecutive nights, having stopped the Blackhawks 5-2 on Wednesday night.

"The whole game we couldn't get up to speed," Suter said. "They were coming and we just couldn't catch up. We would match their intensity and speed. ... It seemed like we were always late arriving on the puck and a team like that you've got to be checking on all cylinders if you want to have success."

NOTES: The Blues made two lineup changes for the second game of their back-to-back games, scratching LW Dmitrij Jaskin and D Robert Bortuzzo, both of whom played Wednesday night in Chicago. Inserted into the lineup were LW Magnus Paajarvi and D Carl Gunnarsson. ... C Eric Staal and RW Teemu Pulkkinen played their first game for the Wild. ... It was the first game against Minnesota for former Wild coach Mike Yeo, fired in February, who was hired by the Blues as an assistant and will take over as the team's head coach next season. ... The Wild will play the Winnipeg Jets in their home opener on Saturday night while the Blues host the New York Rangers.

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