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Nugent-Hopkins excited to get Yakupov

by Mike G. Morreale

PITTSBURGH -- Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins never skated with Nail Yakupov. He's excited about getting that chance -- and it could happen sooner rather than later.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Center - EDM
Goals: 18 | Assists: 34 | Pts: 52
Shots: 134 | +/-: -2
Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini drafted Yakupov, NHL Central Scouting's top-ranked North American player, with the first pick Friday in the opening round of the 2012 NHL Draft at Consol Energy Center.

Nugent-Hopkins, who accompanied the team on the stage when Tambellini announced the pick, was chosen No. 1 last year at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

"It's kind of neat to see things from this side of the spectrum and there's no pressure or nerves," Nugent-Hopkins said. "You just kind of watch all these things unfold.

"There's always talks and stuff going on before the Draft but ultimately it comes down to what the staff decides on draft day and we picked up a great player."

A spectacular start to his NHL career quickly ended speculation where Nugent-Hopkins would spend the 2011-12 season. He notched the game-tying goal in the season opener against Pittsburgh, scored a hat trick in his third career game and became the first 18-year-old in League history to have five assists in one game -- against Chicago on Nov. 19.

"I remember how exciting it was hearing your name being called … it's a memory that will stick with me forever," Nugent-Hopkins said. "You don't really get too much sleep that night because you're so excited."

Nugent-Hopkins went on to finish in a tie for first place among rookies in points with 52 (18 goals, 34 assists) despite missing 20 games due to injury. His point-per-game average of .84 was the best among rookies.

It will be interesting to see if the new Oilers coach -- yet to be named -- will opt to use youngsters Taylor Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov on the same line.

Yakupov scored 31 goals and 69 points in 42 games for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League in 2011-12. He also led the team with 12 power-play goals and a plus-15 rating during an injury-shortened campaign.

"He's an exciting player," Nugent-Hopkins said of Yakupov. "I've seen video of him and he's a very exciting player to watch. I'm looking forward to the chance of playing with him and he'll fit in pretty well."

Nugent-Hopkins was also happy to see former Red Deer Rebels' teammate Mathew Dumba drafted No. 7 overall by the Minnesota Wild.

"It was good to see, he's such a great kid, and he's a great player," Nugent-Hopkins said. "It shows how well the guys from Red Deer talk about him. He's an exciting player. He's definitely dynamic and fast, he plays with intensity and he throws big hits, so he'll be exciting to watch."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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