EDMONTON – Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz gave Edmonton Oilers fans some hope on Tuesday.
Yakupov, the No. 1 pick in last June’s NHL draft, and Schultz, signed as free agent out of college, both scored their first NHL goals in Edmonton’s 6-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks.
It seemed so easy for Yakupov, a five-foot-11 185-pound Russian forward: first NHL shot in Edmonton, first NHL goal.
“I was happy when I scored my first goal,” said the 18-year-old Yakupov, who jumped into the glass and celebrated in his typical jubilant fashion after cutting San Jose’s lead to 2-1. “But we needed to play better in the first period, (we took) a lot of penalties.
“It’s pretty good to score goals at any time.”
Yakupov’s goal was the only bright spot for the Oilers in the first period, as they fell behind 6-1 in a dismal 20 minutes. The period ended with a brief chorus of boos from the sold-out crowd that had filled Rexall Place for Edmonton’s home opener.
When the between-period announcement came, “Now the first period replay” the fans booed. The scoreboard screen showed the goal by Yakupov six straight times.
The goal did highlight one of Yakupov’s impressive strengths: his shot. He took an across-the-crease pass from Sam Gagner and rifled a one-timer into the top side of the net.
“That should help his confidence.” said Gagner. “We were just trying to move the puck around and he did a great job of getting back door and made it an easy play for me.
“He’s got a great shot and a great one-timer. He really releases it with a lot of authority. You can tell by the way it pops off his stick into the back of the net that it’s a big-time shot. We have to find a way we can feed him as much as we can so he can unleash it and get more goals out of it.”
Schultz, a six-foot-two defenceman who picked the Oilers last summer, needed a few more shots — four — to get his goal.
It came on a second-period power play when he was playing with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the foursome that enjoyed so much success with the Oklahoma City Barons in the American Hockey League during the lockout.
Schultz’s goal came like many of the 18 he scored in Oklahoma City — a power-play blast from near the top of the face-off circle after a perfect pass from Nugent-Hopkins.
“It was pretty similar,” said Schultz. “We had all the same guys who were down there so we’re used to each other and that’s one of the plays we ran down there. It was a nice pass by Nuge and just lucky it went in.”
As expected, the 22-year-old from Kelowna, B.C., wasn’t as impressed with his goal given the loss in the team’s home opener.
“I would have liked it to be a more important goal,” said Schultz. “It would have been nice to get a better result but it’s good to get the first one.”