Edmonton, AB - When Nail Yakupov last visited Edmonton, his bubbly personality was on display during Oilers Development Camp at Millennium Place a little more than a month ago. There, he wowed the masses with sharp-shooting tallies and equally as impressive goal celebrations (one of which included a butt-down paddling motion -- dubbed "The Kayakupov," if you haven't heard).
Now he's back, settling into his new home as an NHLer.
"I'm getting ready," he said, grinning, as edmontonoilers.com caught up with the 18-year-old in an exclusive one-on-one interview Thursday morning. "That's why I've come early. I want to see the city and get ready for camp. I'm going to get a chance to practice with the guys and see all the trainers. It will be good.
"Yesterday I went with (Oilers Family Liaison) Jill (Metz) and she showed me the town -- the mall and other good places. It's big for me, because I lived in a small town in Russia and in Sarnia. For me it's a big, big town in the world. I feel good here."
Nail won't be the only Yakupov planting roots in the City of Champions. Joined by his mom, dad and dog -- who have been by his side for the past two seasons in Sarnia -- it's setting up to be a packed household.
"It's going to be good for me," he said. "I'll still have the Russian language and Russian food with me, it's all here. They're the best people in the world and they're coming here with me to help. I think it's great."
With 29 days until rookie camp opens, Yakupov's already busy schedule will be peppered with personal commitments as he looks to nail (sorry) down his living situation for the upcoming season.
"I'm going to be practicing a lot, but I also need to be looking for a new place," he said. "I love Edmonton. It's time to start working and that's why I'm here."
Still, he's been working nonstop all summer long. That includes an appearance at the Canada-Russia Challenge, which wrapped up Tuesday night in Nova Scotia. In addition to a 4-2 regulation win, New York Islanders prospect Ryan Strome ended it all with a shot 3:20 into overtime to give the red and white the series' overall advantage.
"It was something pretty crazy," Yakupov said, looking back at the weeklong exhibition. "It was 100 percent speed, tough games. I was excited because we won in Russia and we won in Canada -- I think we played good. Sometimes we were ready, sometimes not, and when it comes time for the World Juniors, it will be no problem."
In addition to getting another opportunity to best his nation's greatest rival on home soil (and on theirs), Yakupov said his greatest accomplishment over the past week was properly paying tribute to Yaroslavl Lokomotiv -- the KHL club whose plane crashed nearly a year ago, killing all on board.
"For me, it's the team in my heart. Always," he said, somberly. "That's why no one can forget about them. It was a great team; the top team in the KHL and great players were there. I couldn't believe it. For us, for the team and for Russia, it was pretty good when we saw the Canadian fans stand, clap and show their appreciation."
Yakupov, a Nizhnekamsk native (1,000KM to Yaroslavl), collected a goal and three assists over the past week. But none of it mattered afterwards when he paraded around the ice with a Lokomotiv logo raised high over his head, honouring the individuals that meant so much to him and his country.
Skill was a given. But Yakupov proved the Oilers are getting something more, adding to a city that prides itself on class in the community.