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Draft 2012: Nail Yakupov

With the NHL Entry Draft approaching, now is as good a time as any to start looking at some of those players expected to go in the early going. The draft will take place starting on June 22 in Pittsburgh and the Edmonton Oilers have once again landed the top pick, marking the third year in a row that the struggling franchise has landed the first kick at the can.

There has been much speculation as to who’ll be going first overall, but one name that keeps coming up is that of Nail Yakupov.

Yakupov represents an interesting pick for a number of reasons. He is the first potential breakout star to come out of Tartarstan, a federal subject of Russia, and will be one of few first Muslim players to lace the skates in the National Hockey League when he arrives. Yakupov, who’s expected to possibly go first overall, will be the highest drafted Muslim player. Nazem Kadri of the Toronto Maple Leafs holds that honour so far, however, and he went seventh overall.

Yakupov was picked second overall by the Sarnia Sting in the 2010 CHL Import Draft. He had, prior to that, played in the Russian Minor Hockey League for Reaktor Nizhnekamsk. He wanted to jump to the CHL to fulfill his dream of playing in the NHL and eventually won the OHL Rookie of the Month in October of 2010. He won the honour again in February of 2011.

Internationally, Yakupov was part of Team Russia in the 2011 U18 World Junior Championship tournament and won silver with his team in the 2012 World Junior Championship, defeating Canada in the semifinals but losing to Sweden in the gold medal match.

Yakupov is a natural right winger and has been scouted as one of the most skilled players available in this draft pool. In his 2010-2011 season with the Sting, he posted 101 points in 65 games. His offensive contributions are duly noted by most teams interested in his skill-set, but the knock on him is that he can be a “selfish player.”

Still, Yakupov has already drawn comparisons to the likes of Alex Ovechkin and other high-flying Russians. His favourite player was Pavel Bure and those comparisons are evident as well.

Said hockey legend (and Yakupov agent) Igor Larionov: “Both Alex and Nail are what one would call raw talent. Both possess a great deal of rare skill sets. With their passion and love for the game, their work ethic on and off the ice, they will be the kind of players that bring the game of hockey to the next level.

To check out Yakupov in action, check out the video clip here.

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