Telling you about Russian phenom Nail Yakupov is like telling you about Sidney Crosby in 2004. If you know anything about hockey, chances are you know about this 18 year old stud from Nizhnekamsk, Russia (yes, he was born after the fall of the Soviet Union…feel old?). Well, regardless, I’m going to tell you a little about the guy that sounds like an old school Bond villain.
Yakupov has played two seasons with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League. In his first season, he played 65 games and tallied 49 goals, 52 assists, 71 penalty minutes and a -2 rating. A year later, he played in only 42 games but scored 31 goals with 38 assists, increasing his points per game ever so slightly (from 1.55 to 1.64). He also raised his rating to +15, although obviously that’s more of a team dependent stat than the others. In the Western Conference Quarterfinals, he played 6 games and scored 2 goals with 3 assists. His team lost, but clearly it was not because of Yakupov’s failings (unless you expected him to get 7 goals and 10 assists, in which case you are just too demanding).
When the NHL Entry Draft occurs at the end of June in Pittsburgh, it would surprise everyone from Altoona to Moscow if the Edmonton Oilers didn’t use their #1 pick on Yakupov. He would be best served on the same line as Smyth (Hall?) and Nugent-Hopkins, but who knows how Tom Renney will decide to work him into the team (although a line of three #1 picks would be amazing). The fact is, Yapukov is an elite talent, and even on a lesser line surrounded by lesser players, he will still be a major source for points. I don’t think it will take him long to find his sea legs (partlybecause he plays on ice, not water), and I would go so far as to rank him in the top ten for next year’s draft. Arguable? Fine, but I think there is no debate he will be a top 20 player. In a keeper league where he’s still available, I would go after him harder than if you were Pepe Le Pew and Yakupov just got a stripe of white paint down his back.
Some prior #1 picks: Kovalchuk, Nash, Ovechkin, Crosby, Kane, Stamkos, Tavares. Don’t be shy on draft day.
2012-2013 (conservative) predictions: 37 goals, 41 assists, 63 PIM, -3 (because he plays for Edmonton, after all).