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With the New Year right around the corner, we’ll wave goodbye to the 2010s, a decade filled with ups and (many, many) downs in Oil Country. Let’s jump in the time machine and go back through all of the things that defined this decade of Oilers hockey. Today, we have, among other things, the Yakupov Slide. 

While the Oil Change rendition of the team in the 2010s saw virtually zero success in the standings, the young talent on the team created a glimmer of hope that made it all worth watching.

In 2009-10, the team completely collapsed in the middle of the season, endured a month-long losing streak, and rode their losses all the way to their first-ever first-overall pick at the draft. They selected Taylor Hall with the first pick, who would lead the rebuilding process alongside Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi, a couple of first-round picks from the previous two drafts. Though absolutely nobody expected anything from them, there was a lot of hype surrounding the team heading into the season with these rookies breaking into the league.

The 2010-11 season, or the H.O.P.E era, started with a bang. In front of a jam-packed Rexall Place, the young Oilers put together a 4-0 pounding of the Calgary Flames, putting on display the elite talent the team had assembled that would dominate the provincial rivalry for years to come. The exclamation point was Jordan Eberle’s beautiful first-career goal…

Of course, that moment was short-lived, as the Oilers would win their second game of the season against the Florida Panthers before embarking on a six-game losing streak through the rest of the month. Another six-game skid in November put the team in a position in which it was very clear they would be tanking for yet another first-overall pick at the draft.

But still, even amidst the losses, this young Oilers team would give fans a reason to cheer. In December of 2010, former fourth-round pick Linus Omark (y’know, the O in H.O.P.E!), known for his supreme skills and shootout sensations, made his NHL debut. Omark picked up an assist early on, but, fittingly, he got a chance to really put his stamp on his debut game in the shootout…

Ultimately, the Oilers would finish dead last again in 2010-11 with an identical 62 points to the year before. After the New Jersey Devils won the draft lottery and moved up to fourth overall, Steve Tambellini sauntered up to the stage and selected Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels with the team’s second-ever first pick. The decision left stud Swedish defenceman Adam Larsson and rugged winger Gabriel Landeskog on the board, but gave the Oilers their much-needed top centre of the future, as they had passed over Tyler Seguin the previous year.

Though he boasted the body of a small child, Nugent-Hopkins was in the Oilers’ lineup on opening night. He proved quickly that he belonged, with a clutch first-career goal that tied the team’s first game up at 1-1 with five minutes left to go in regulation time…

The Oilers would fly out of the gate, putting together a six-game winning streak in late-October, making it appear as though the team of the future had arrived early. Unfortunately, a couple of four-game losing streaks without many wins sprinkled in the middle burst the bubble.

By the time the World Juniors, which were being hosted in Edmonton and Calgary, rolled around, fans were draft-watching again. This was always a time for optimism and excitement for a rebuilding team. Oscar Klefbom, a draft pick from 2011 who came back in the previous season’s Dustin Penner trade, was named the tournament’s top defenceman. But which 2012-draft-ready prospect should fans keep their eyes on? Maybe this guy?

The Oilers would roll out the rest of the season without any gigantic losing streaks like in the previous couple of years. It would be more of a win here a couple of losses there, rinse, wash, and repeat the rest of the way. A 76-point season from Eberle, a great rookie campaign from Nugent-Hopkins and a strong, but an injury-riddled sophomore year for Hall kept things interesting, but the best moment of the season came in February when Sam Gagner went ahead and did this…

Gagner became the 11th player in NHL history to score eight points in a game and became the third Oiler, joining Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey, to put up eight points in a game that night. As great as that was, it was ultimately a footnote in another losing season in Oil Country. On the bright side, the Oilers weren’t the worst team in the league this time around. They put up a much-improved 74 points, well clear of the dead-last Blue Jackets.

But that wouldn’t stop the Draft Lottery Train. Bill Daly pulled out Edmonton’s card and a smug-looking Tambellini received yet another first pick. What to do? Russian winger Nail Yakupov who had lit up the OHL was the top pick, right? Or was it his teammate Alex Galchenyuk? The Oilers needed a defenceman, so Ryan Murray was the guy, right? Why not Griffin Reinhart, the stud defenceman who grew up with the Oil Kings right in the Oilers’ backyard? Or maybe now it’s time to trade the pick?

Of all the top picks, this was probably the most difficult to determine. Nobody had a clue who Tambellini was going to call on draft day. When he got up on stage, it was Yakupov’s name called. While the Oilers were loaded up front, they couldn’t turn down a chance to add an elite talent like Yakupov, who had Steve Stamkos-level success in his rookie year in the OHL.

Was it the right pick? It took quite a while for us to get a chance to see. The first half of the 2012-13 season was wiped out due to a lockout, but, when play resumed in January of 2013, Yakupov quickly made a statement…

Those first few years of the decade were rough. Really rough. But still, moments like Eberle’s gorgeous first goal, Nugent-Hopkins’ clutch game-tying goal, Gagner’s eight-point night, and Yakupov’s slide shined a light on a dark time. Better times were surely right around the corner.