While the 2012 NHL Entry Draft may be top heavy with talented defensemen, it wouldn't surprise NHL Network analyst Craig Button if a forward is the first player off the board.
Nail Yakupov, who was one of 36 top 2012 prospects on the ice for last week's NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp in Etobicoke, Ont., is that good -- and during an interview with The Team 1260 in Edmonton on Wednesday, Button put the Russian speedster in some pretty special company.
"He's a dominant player and went to the 2011 World Under-18s and was dominant there. He would have arguably been a top-five pick in last year's draft, so he's got all those elements."
-- NHL Network analyst Craig Button
"When you watch him, I don't think there's one singular player that you would say, 'Wow, that's a guy he could be just like,'" Button said. "But his ability to maneuver out of traffic and out of the corners from tight areas reminds you of Pavel Datsyuk
. When you watch him explode in his skating, he reminds you of Pavel Bure
The comparisons didn't end there, either.
"Usually when you watch Russian players, you tend to compare them to Russians. But the other player Yakupov kind of reminds me of is Jari Kurri
in the sense that he knows how to get open. Bure exploded in areas to score goals, and Kurri was a stealth player with a great shot. When I watch (Yakupov) at different times, I think that with the right centerman, he's got a chance to score 50 one day in the NHL. So those are three types of players I feel describe Yakupov."
Yakupov, a 6-foot, 190-pounder selected second by the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting during the 2010 CHL import draft, had the fourth-highest total in the league and most by a first-year player when he struck for 101 points in 2010-11. He won the OHL's Rookie of the Year award and his point total, which included 49 goals, shattered Steven Stamkos
' team record for a rookie (92 points in 2006-07).
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"He's a dominant player and went to the 2011 World Under-18s and was dominant there," Button said. "He would have arguably been a top-five pick in last year's draft, so he's got all those elements. When you see players like that who are so good, you start to ask yourself, 'What are they not capable of doing in the game?' Well, much like Taylor Hall
or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
, or any of those top players, there's not very many things they aren't able to do. I think that's what separates them from the rest of the group and puts them into that elite prospect status."
Yakupov represented Russia at the 2011 Under-18 Championships and tallied a hat trick in the bronze medal game to lead his country to a 6-4 victory against Canada.
In addition to Yakupov, Button labeled Finnish forward Teuvo Teravianen as a potential sleeper in the 2012 draft.
The 5-10, 161-pound wing racked up 16 goals and 35 points through 11 games for his Jokerit U16 club in 2009-10. Last season, he produced five goals and 17 points in 11 games for Finland's Under-17 Team. He has compared his style of play to Patrick Kane
"Talk about a dynamic skater, Teravianen is a guy who can make things happen so quickly," Button said. "He's really smart and able to draw defenders to him and make really good plays. Right now, he's a little slight, but when you watch him on the ice, he's a real dynamic player. Right now, for me, he's a guy who is a first-round pick. By springtime, he could be mentioned among the top guys."
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