Edmonton, AB - First overall pick Nail Yakupov is one step closer to primetime.
That's where he belongs and that's where he'll be come October. The 18-year-old signed his entry-level deal with the Oilers Monday -- the contract will pay him $925,000 in each of the next three seasons, with an annual cap hit of $3.755M when all signing and performance bonuses are factored in.
"I'm pretty excited," he said, casually-as-ever, over the phone. "I can't wait to meet the guys, meet the team and start practicing. I'm very, very excited."
"It's an exciting day for the Oilers and an exciting day for Nail and his family," added Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini. "Considering the work that goes into being drafted, never mind No. 1 overall in the NHL is quite an accomplishment. I'm sure [Nail's parents are] very proud."
Yakupov's short-as-can-be summer has been peppered with on-ice obligations, including work at the Oilers' mid-summer Development Camp earlier this month. He's back in training in Russia now, but the Nizhnekamsk product's preparation is unrelenting.
On Aug. 9 and 10 in Yaroslavl, Russia and on Aug. 13 and 14 in Halifax, Yakupov will be participating in the Canada-Russia Challenge. After coming away with an emotional win over the red and white during the 2012 World Junior Championship -- a tournament in which he collected a team-high nine assists and +5 rating -- Yakupov is eager to get back at it.
Understandably so, considering the winger's happiness and emotional state after beating them last time. He's dialed that back a bit, mind you.
"We're not warriors, right? It's hockey and we don't want to kill somebody and they don't want to kill us too," he laughed. "We want to play hockey, show great hockey and play for the fans. We get to play in Yaroslavl where the Lokomotiv play -- I remember that team and know a couple guys there, so it will be a good experience and something really special."
Showcasing his all-world skill to those in attendance is right in Yakupov's wheelhouse. Fans got a close-up look at that less than a month ago when the sniper picked corners at will and celebrated them appropriately with some unique and sometimes choreographed post-goal sequences.
"I spoke to Igor Larionov (Yakupov's agent)," Tambellini said. "I asked him how emotional and interactive he was with our fans, if that was him all the time. He said, 'Yes!' I said, 'If that's what he is, great. Our fans will be excited.' I know he'll work extremely hard to be a great Oiler. That's what we're hoping.
"Just like with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, our approach will be the same," he added. "He'll go through the process of learning the feel of the National (Hockey) League and picking up on the speed, strength and things like that. You saw it with Nuge and with Taylor (Hall) and Jordan (Eberle). Everybody has a break-in period, so it'll be something that I know he'll be able to accomplish. There was no question that he has a goal and he wants to make sure that he can secure a full-time spot on the roster. That will be a pretty big accomplishment in itself."
Once Yakupov's experience at the Canada-Russia challenge is over, he'll be moving to Edmonton to get settled for what promises to be an exciting season. In addition to the NHL-side of it, he's thrilled about getting to return to Edmonton for a (much) longer look at his new home.
"I was in the hotel and back to the rink, hotel and back to the rink again," Yakupov said of Development Camp. "That was nice. It was a great group of guys and we spent the whole day together. We cooked together, had a lot of meetings and that was pretty good. But I want to see the town a little bit more. It's a good town, a big town, but I haven't seen too much of it. When I come [back], I'm going to see something good."
Yakupov scored 31 goals and 69 points in 42 games last season with the OHL's Sarnia Sting last season. So while he's no stranger to Canada and the nation's deeply rooted passion for the game, his parents are new to it.
They'll be hitching along for the ride, moving to Edmonton when the season starts.
"It will be nice to have them close by," Yakupov said. "But right now I'm getting ready for the games against Canada. When I come back to Edmonton, it all starts. I'll be working with the trainers and with the team to get ready for camp."
In many ways, he's as ready as ever.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick