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Yakupov jovial, confident heading into Draft

by Marc Ciampa / Edmonton Oilers
Pittsburgh, PA - Coming into the draft as the highly-touted number one pick, Nail Yakupov was calm, cool and collected the day before the draft during a Top Prospects Media Availability aboard a boat on the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh.

"It's a great process. I like the interviews. Everything's okay. Waiting for tomorrow. It's great," said Yakupov.

The Russian winger added that he's not at all nervous. That showed as he displayed a happy-go-lucky attitude during the media availability and carried that on as the prospects set up shop in the batting cages at PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"I'm excited. No pressure. I'm not thinking about it. I think it's going to be a good sleep today. I'm not nervous," Yakupov continued. "Probably tomorrow I'm going to be nervous in the rink because it's the NHL and it's the draft. It's a big thing in my life. So we'll see."

During the batting practice, Yakupov went bare-footed and often wandered around the infield while his fellow prospects simply waited their turn as they lined up by the batting cage. It's that sort of want or need to stand out that makes Yakupov such a special player.

But that said, when asked how badly he wanted to go first and what he would do if he didn't go first, he had a quick answer.

"I don't want to stop playing hockey if I'm second or third," he laughed. "I'm just going to work hard and play in the NHL."

Rumours have swirled here in Pittsburgh over the past few days as many expect there to be a lot of movement of picks once the draft floor opens Friday night. But again, Yakupov was pretty casual when the prospect of big movement came up in interviews.

"I heard there was going to be trades but it's not my deal or not my problem," he said.

One reporter asked Yakupov who his favourite player is. He showed an affinity for Russian players, but didn't single any particular player out.

"Russian stars," said Yakupov, known to be a huge fan of former NHLer and Russian Pavel Bure. "Everyone who plays in the NHL."

Once again, Yakupov showed that casual confidence when he was asked if he could step into the NHL next season.

"Yeah, why not. I'm ready so I want to play."

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