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Yakupov visits Edmonton for meeting with Oilers

by Mike G. Morreale /

It's been quite the week for Nail Yakupov, NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater.

After making an impression with the NHL scouts and general managers at the NHL Scouting Combine in suburban Toronto, taking part in 18 interviews and then undergoing his fitness examination on Friday, the 18-year-old right wing from the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting traveled to Newark, N.J., for Saturday's Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

On Sunday, he hopped back on a plane for his first-ever visit to Edmonton for a meet with the managerial brass of the Oilers, who hold the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft on June 22 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Yakupov was also interviewed by the Oilers at the Combine.


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He is one of three top prospects scheduled to visit Edmonton this week. According to Edmonton's website, center Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Quebec Remparts is slated for a visit on Thursday and defenseman Ryan Murray of the Western Hockey League's Everett Silvertips will be in on Friday.

Oilers president Kevin Lowe knows Murray very well. The No. 2-rated North American prospect earned extra audition time after a series of injuries allowed him to play for Team Canada -- managed by Lowe -- at the recent IIHF World Hockey Championship.

Yakupov also met the media on Monday morning at Rexall Place in Edmonton.

"I want to be first, but I don't know who's going to be first in the draft so we'll see what happens," he said. "Edmonton is great hockey club and it's amazing inside the [locker] room, so it would be nice to play here."

He admitted he was fascinated by the pictures and posters of the Oilers' greats in and around Rexall Place.

"I was in Detroit before but it was a little different because it was smaller and a little older rink, but here things are different … lot of rooms, lot of stuff and lot of guys and I was shocked a little bit," Yakupov said. "NHL players like Gretzky and Jari Kurri played here. Just looking at the pictures of the Stanley Cup and other things, it's very interesting and it's great."

Yakupov said he didn't bump into any current Oilers.

During his visit, Yakupov was scheduled to receive a tour of the city, meet team owner Daryl Katz and the join several managerial members for a nice sit-down dinner.

"Every team in the NHL is great, it doesn't matter what team is the team I am going to," Yakupov said.

He was also asked if he'd be willing to play left wing instead of working from the right side.

"I can be goalie too," he said with a laugh. "I can play left, center, defense. I have played everywhere."

Yakupov is an ethnic Tatar from the city of Nizhnekamsk, 500 miles east of Moscow. If he does become an NHL star, which certainly appears to be a given, he'll become the first from that region to do so. Despite playing just 42 regular-season games, Yakupov finished third on the team with 69 points, including 31 goals. He also had a plus-15 rating and 12 power-play goals.

Stu McGregor, Edmonton's head amateur scout, was impressed with Yakupov's fitness test at the Combine.

"He extended himself and put himself out there and gave everything he had," MacGregor told "I think that Nail wants to be No. 1 and he wants to prove he's No. 1, so he knows what's at stake and he's pushing himself to be the best he can be."

One question that he was asked that kind of took him by surprise was whether he had a girlfriend.

"I said I have two," Yakupov said amid laughter from the reporters. "I have one in Sarnia and one in Russia. I'm going to try for a third in Edmonton [Monday] so we'll see."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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