Electrifying forward Nail Yakupov makes his anticipated return to Sarnia, Ont., on Monday to lead Russia against the stars of the Ontario Hockey League in the fourth game of the 2012 Subway Super Series before an expected capacity crowd at RBC Centre.
The game can be seen on NHL Network-US at 9 p.m. ET, following coverage of Hockey Hall of Fame ceremonies in Toronto.
The RBC Centre, home to the OHL's Sting, was Yakupov's stomping grounds for two seasons before he was announced as the No. 1 choice by the Edmonton Oilers at the 2012 NHL Draft last June.
"Monday will be crazy, I think," Yakupov told the CHL website following Russia's practice Sunday morning. "It's good to be back. This is a great team with great fans. I am excited for the game."
Yakupov was named the 2011 CHL Rookie of the Year after producing 49 goals and 101 points to establish a club record for the Sting. He would ultimately compile 170 points in 107 OHL games during two seasons in Sarnia before becoming the sixth straight CHL player to be selected first overall at the NHL Draft.
"Its extremely exciting to have Nail back in the RBC Centre tonight," Sarnia assistant general manager Mark Glavin told NHL.com. "It's a unique opportunity for our fans to thank him for everything he has meant to our city the two seasons that he played here and to congratulate him on going first overall. Nail provided our fans with a lot of entertainment over the years and I know he considers Sarnia to be a very special city to him. I won't be surprised if he puts on a bit of a show here tonight."
The contest is crucial for Team OHL, which suffered a 2-1 loss to Russia on Thursday. The Canadian Hockey League has just three points on one victory (by the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) in the Super Series, while Russia has six points (two wins). Russia split with the QMJHL before its opener against the OHL on Thursday.
Following Monday's game, the Russians will travel to Vancouver for Wednesday's battle against the Western Hockey League standouts at Pacific Coliseum. The series will conclude Thursday in Victoria, B.C., at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre against the WHL.
According to Paul Krotz of the CHL, Yakupov, the Russian team's captain, was directing his teammates around RBC Centre and providing directions to the weight room upon the team's arrival in Sarnia on Saturday afternoon. Yakupov also renewed acquaintances with members of the Sting, including former teammate Alex Galchenyuk and his father Alex Sr., before signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans. Galchenyuk, who was Yakupov's linemate in Sarnia, was drafted No. 3 by the Montreal Canadiens last June.
Yakupov is tied for the club lead with three points through three games in the Super Series. Maxim Shalunov (Chicago Blackhawks, fourth round, 2011) also has three points, including a team-leading two goals, for the Russians.
"Every game I played in Sarnia was special, I'm happy to play here one last time," Yakupov said. "I can't wait for the game."
Yakupov represented Russia at the 2012 World Junior Championship held in Edmonton and Calgary, finishing tied for the tournament lead with nine assists. He helped Russia to a silver medal and recorded four assists in a semifinal-round victory against Team Canada.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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