Nail Yakupov is a game-changer.
Yakupov’s ability to dazzle with the puck has led most in the hockey world to believe he’ll be the No. 1 overall pick by Edmonton on Friday. The Nizhnekamsk, Russia product came to North America in 2010, and in 65 games in 2010-11 with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, broke Steven Stamkos’ franchise record for rookie points with 101 (49 goals, 52 assists). Last season, with teammate and fellow elite prospect Alex Galchenyuk sidelined by injury, Yakupov actually upped his scoring pace, tallying 31 goals and 38 assists in just 42 games. Known mostly as a goal-scorer, the 5’11”, 190-pound winger showed his versatility at the 2012 World Junior Championships, tying for the tournament lead with nine assists for silver medal-winning Russia.
Trent Klatt, a member of the Islanders Player Development team, has scouted Yakupov for two years, and says the kid can do it all. “Yakupov is certainly an electrifying player that has the ability to bring you out of your seat. He will make the players around him better.”
‘Yak’ sat down with NewYorkIslanders.com and shared his thoughts about being the top-ranked prospect going into the draft, and his relationship with Galchenyuk.
NewYorkIslanders.com: How would you describe your game to somebody who has never watched you play before?
Nail Yakupov: I have great speed, I have a great shot. I play good in the corners and I can score goals.
NYI: You came into 2011-12 following a pretty good rookie season in junior hockey. What kinds of things do you think you improved the most last year in Sarnia?
Five things to know about Nail Yakupov
1. With teammate and fellow top-10 prospect Alex Galchenyuk injured all season, Yakupov still posted 69 points in 42 games (1.7 per game) for Sarnia in 2011-12.
2. He started skating at age 3, as it was just a 10-minute walk from his house to the nearest rink in Nizhnekamsk.
3. His first name, Nail, is Arabic in origin and means “reaching, achieving or gaining success.”
4. His idol growing up was six-time NHL All star Pavel Bure.
5. He credits his father, who coached him as a kid, as the biggest influence on his career.
NY: It was a good season for me in Sarnia. We had a pretty good team. We lost in the first round of the playoffs, but it happens. That’s hockey.
NYI: Can you talk a little bit about the experience of playing in the World Junior Tournament? Your role is typically that of a goal-scorer, but you were more of a playmaker on that squad, scoring nine points (all assists).
NY: For me, I just think about the team, and that we’ve got to win every game. I don’t think about my points, because I think we played great. We have a great team.
NYI: What kind of dynamic do you have with fellow top-10 prospect Alex Galchenyuk?
NY: It’s pretty easy playing with another Russian guy on the team. Things were tough at first, because my English was not good. Gally would help me all the time. He’s a great hockey player, and playing on the same line with Alex was amazing because he understands the game, he’s smart, he plays center and he can move the puck well.
NYI: Your name has been at the top of this draft class for a while now. Getting closer to draft day, what are you feeling – any nerves or excitement?
NY: I’m not nervous, and I don’t feel the pressure because it’s fun. We (the top prospects) are doing a lot of media stuff right now, and we have just got to be excited. We’ll see what happens.
ISLANDERS DRAFT PARTY | GET TO KNOW FILIP FORSBERG | MURRAY / GRIGORENKO BREAKDOWN | DRAFT CENTRAL ARCHIVE