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Yakupov, Galchenyuk set to rejoin Sting for playoffs

by Mike G. Morreale
The Sarnia Sting announced Thursday that Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk, each sidelined with injuries last week, will be in the lineup when the team opens its first-round Ontario Hockey League playoff series against the Saginaw Spirit on Friday at the RBC Centre in Sarnia.

It marks the first time this season that two of the top North American prospects eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft will be in the lineup for the same game.

Yakupov had been sidelined the final four regular-season games after suffering an upper-body injury against the Owen Sound Attack. Yakupov required stitches to his mouth after an open-ice hit by Attack captain Mike Halmo 11:20 into the second period of a 4-0 Sting victory March 10. The OHL suspended Halmo 10 games for his hit. He'll have to sit out his team's first eight playoff games, if applicable. The Attack open the playoffs Friday against the Kitchener Rangers.

Alex Galchenyuk produced 31 goals and 83 points in 68 games for the Sting in 2010-11. (Photo: OHL Images)
Galchenyuk made his regular-season debut March 14 after being sidelined all season after ACL surgery in October. He played one game before departing a March 16 game against the London Knights with an upper-body injury following a defensive-zone faceoff against rookie Max Domi.

Both players resumed full-contact practice with the team earlier this week, and according to Sarnia's website, are ready to return. Yakupov finished third on the team with 69 points this season, including 31 goals, in just 42 games. He also sports a plus-15 rating and scored 12 power-play goals.

Playing alongside Yakupov last season, Galchenyuk had 31 goals and 83 points in 68 games for the Sting.

Galchenyuk and Yakupov were the top two prospects on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary ranking of the top 25 skaters from the Ontario Hockey League in November. In January, Yakupov was listed as the No. 1 North American skater eligible for the Draft. Due to his injury, Galchenyuk was listed as a "limited viewing."

Yakupov told he is looking forward to playing and contributing when it matters most -- in the playoffs.

"The playoffs are important for everyone," Yakupov told "I never played in the playoffs, so I want to try to see what it's like for me. Everybody wants to play more and play at a high end. Performing in big games is better for your hockey career."

It's possible Yakupov could become the first Russian player selected with the No. 1 pick at the NHL Draft since Alex Ovechkin in 2004.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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