I could only hold off from profiling the highest ranked player in this year’s NHL draft for so long. Today we take a look at what many believe to be the first overall pick this season, Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting. If you haven’t heard of Yakupov yet, you obviously haven’t been watching TSN or listening to much sports radio. Nail is the talk of the town when it comes to this year’s NHL Draft.
Yakupov, as made quite obviously by his name, is Russian born. He was born October 6th, 1993 in Nizhnekamsk, Russia. Before coming to Canada Yakupov played in the MHL in Russia for the Reaktor Nizhnekamsk in his home town. In only 14 games for the team he scored 4 goals and 2 assists.
In 2010 Yakupov was selected in both the KHL and OHL Import Draft. He was selected 19th overall in the KHL Draft by Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk and 2nd overall in the OHL Draft by the Sarnia Sting. Following many others, Yakupov decided that the OHL was the best path for him to reach his goal of playing in the NHL. Yakupov took the OHL by storm.
In his rookie season Nail scored 49 goals and 52 games in 65 games. He became only the fifth rookie in the past 15 years to score 100 pts. in the OHL. Another key stat to look at is his 71 penalty minutes, as Yakupov is no wimpy Russian by any stretch of the imagination. In the video below you’ll see just what I mean.
For his efforts, Yakupov was named OHL rookie of the year as well as CHL rookie of the year. Yakupov became the first ever member of the Sting to win Rookie of the Year, a franchise that boasts the likes of Stephen Stamkos and Dan Carcillo. That same year Yakupov represented his team at the Under-18 World Championships. He scored 6 goals and 7 assists in 7 games in the tournament, including a hat trick in the bronze medal game to help lift Russia over team Canada.
This year Yakupov’s totals fell off a tad, largely due to injury. Only able to play 42 games this season, Nail put up 31 goals and 38 assists for the Sting. In Central Scouting’s final report released only a few days ago Yakupov is still listed as the number one North American skater available in the 2012 draft. He is listed at the top of most rankings, including TSN’s.
It was largely assumed that Yakupov would be going to Columbus with the first overall pick, but in fact the draft lottery was won by the Edmonton Oilers. This means for a third year overall the Oilers will have the first overall pick. Whether Yakupov will be heading up north to play with Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is still uncertain however, as rumors swirl that Edmonton is willing to trade the pick. Some also say the Oilers want to grab a defenseman, maybe Murray or Dumba. No matter what happens it appears Nail Yakupov will be the best thing to come from Russia since Alex Ovechkin. I leave you with a little video from the NHL Network on the young Russian forward.