Igor Larionov believes the Edmonton Oilers could regret it if they don't select right wing Nail Yakupov with the first pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, June 22 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
Larionov, the Hockey Hall of Fame player turned agent for Yakupov and Sarnia teammate Alex Galchenyuk recently sat down with NHL.com to discuss his two prized prospects. Yakupov is NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater, while Galchenyuk is No. 4.
"To me, I would go for Nail to get that whole lineup of great players for the next 10-plus years with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov," Larionov told NHL.com. "I know it's a tough decision, but if I were GM, I would take Nail and enjoy this young group grow and develop for many years.
"It would be like [Mark] Messier, Jari Kurri and [Wayne] Gretzky all over again. Another generation of great players … it would be fantastic to see the new Oilers of a new era with that talent and speed."
Stu MacGregor, Edmonton's chief amateur scout, admitted there are several talented high-end prospects entering this year's draft.
2012 NHL DRAFT
Draft drama starts with the No. 1 pick
By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer
The Oilers could use the No. 1 pick to select Russian prospect Nail Yakupov or deal it to another team and possibly choose later from one of the many solid defensemen available this year. READ MORE ›
"I wouldn't say that [Yakupov is the true No. 1]," MacGregor told NHL.com. "I think he's one of the players you have to consider for that spot, but I think there are a few players you have to consider."
Larionov advised his clients to use the NHL Scouting Combine as a way to familiarize themselves with the business side of the League, and in the process get to know the key decision-makers for those teams.
"You have to open your mind and soul and tell the truth and tell the teams where you see yourself in three years, how you want to develop and help the game of hockey," Larionov said. "Patience, hard work and commitment are the keys in becoming superstars."
If Yakupov and Galchenyuk are chosen with the first two picks in this year's draft, it would mark the first time in 43 years that teammates were taken with the top two picks; in 1969, Montreal Junior Canadiens teammates Rejean Houle and Marc Tardif were drafted by the Montreal Canadiens with the first two picks.
Though that certainly is a possibility, Larionov said Yakupov and Galchenyuk are very different players with different personalities.
"Alex was the kind of journeyman in Europe, born in the United States, and Nail was born in a small town two hours away from Moscow, so they are different guys," Larionov said.
Galchenyuk was born in Milwaukee, Wisc., while his father played in the International Hockey League with the Milwaukee Admirals, but he also lived in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Russia. Yakupov is an ethnic Tatar from the city of Nizhnekamsk. Before joining the Sting in 2010-11, Yakupov played for Reaktor Nizhnekamsk, the local MHL junior affiliate of the KHL team Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk.
"While they might have two different personalities, their on-ice chemistry is incredible because the skill level, mindset and desire to be the best are incredible," Larionov said.
Galchenyuk said Larionov has been an important person in his life to this point.
"He's a Hall of Famer and a great person and it's also nice to have him around you," Galchenyuk said. "I really respect the things he does and he helps me a lot with equipment, coaches and teams."
Galchenyuk, who made his regular-season debut March 14 after being sidelined by ACL surgery in October, played one game before departing a March 16 game against the London Knights with an upper-body injury. He returned for the playoffs, totaling two goals and four points in six games.
"Alex is an all-round player who started out scoring a lot of goals when he played midget-major in Chicago, to now being a playmaker and very good defensively," Larionov said. "He can score any goals and set up any plays and can play all different positions."
Limited to 42 regular-season games by injuries and international events, Yakupov finished third on the team with 69 points, including 31 goals. He also had a plus-15 rating and 12 power-play goals.
"A lot of people compare Nail to Pavel Bure and there's a few things you can see with that comparison, but Nail has his own identity," Larionov said. "I've watched him for three years now, two in Sarnia, and he has his own style … I can go on and on about him."
Larionov said he recommended two years ago that each player move to North America and each took the advice to heart. As a result, it probably boosted their draft stock.
"Playing two or three years of junior hockey means the dream of playing in the NHL is closer," Larionov said. "The coaches [in North America] know how to teach and prepare you for the NHL. You have to learn how to be consistent for long stretches and not just two or three games at a time. The Canadian Hockey League gives you the base on how to respect the game and get ready for the games."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale