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Yakupov visits Edmonton; wants to go first overall

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Nail Yakupov arrives at the Edmonton International Airport.

WATCH VIDEO: Yakupov Arrives in Edmonton
Leduc, AB - Nail Yakupov wants to be an Edmonton Oiler.

Without hesitation and with a bright, charismatic smile, it wasn't even a question. He's a competitor who demands nothing less.

"I want to be (picked) first. Everyone wants to be first, right?"

Ranked No. 1 among North American Skaters by NHL Central Scouting, Yakupov has been invited to Edmonton to get a tour of the city and meet with several big-name decision-makers -- including a dinner and meet-and-greet with team owner Daryl Katz.

It's a process not exclusive to Yakupov, but one shared by some elite names in the past. Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin both experienced it in 2010, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was privy to the opportunity a year ago.

Others in the Oilers' wheelhouse may be invited later this week as well. The top-rated defenceman in the 2012 class (No. 2 overall by CSS), Ryan Murray, is also expected to make an appearance in Oil Country.

"I can't say if I'm going to go first, second or third because nobody knows. But if something happens [and I don't go first overall], I'm not going to stop playing hockey," he laughed.

"I expect it to be fun, to be great. It's a good chance to meet everyone -- meet the GM, meet the president. I think it's pretty great. It's my first time in Edmonton, so we'll see what tomorrow will be like. I have a whole list of things to do."

It's been a busy schedule for the 18-year-old over the past week. On Monday, he began the grueling process at the 2012 NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto. In total, he met with 18 clubs (including the Oilers), ran the gauntlet with endless media obligations and wrapped it all up with an intense, one-hour medical/physical examination.

On Saturday, he was in New Jersey to watch Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

"I had two great seasons in Sarnia (OHL's Sting)," he said, noting his North-American experience. "But I'm ready for the NHL. I watched the game (Saturday) and noticed how hard it was. It was a great atmosphere, too. I'm going to work and work and work, and we'll see what happens."

And with a laugh and that ear-to-ear grin we've come to expect, he reiterated his earlier point:

"Oh yeah, I'm ready to play in the NHL."

While he insists he's ready, the 5'11", 190-pound winger isn't above a self-critique. But again, it speaks to his character as he outlined an all-encompassing plan.

"I want to be at my best every day," he said. "I need to work hard for my whole body (over the summer) and not think too much about next year. I want to live for today, because you don't know what happens when you go outside the airport or what could happen tomorrow."

If the Oilers want to add a dynamic, elite-level goal-scorer to the club's existing high-end arsenal, then it's a no-brainer. Yakupov is the guy. He'd blossom alongside Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle; and his favourite player growing up was Pavel Bure, another point-producing star that helped add a new dimension to any roster he was on, much in the same way Yakupov will when he makes his big-league debut next season.

But, of course, there's more to the decision than goals and assists. Still, Yakupov wants to don orange and blue is already well versed in all things Oilers.

"I know it's a pretty young team," he said. "I know about Gretzky, Jari Kurri -- they were a pretty good team that won a lot of Stanley Cups."

What about coming to the Oilers and helping the current crop author a similar championship story?

"It would be so much fun."

-- Ryan Dittrick, - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
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