by Lisa McRitchie on 06/23/12 at 01:30 AM ET
He’s not the most quotable player, but Nail Yakupov is certainly, without a doubt, the top player at this year’s NHL Entry Draft. Right up until the moment the Edmonton Oilers’ GM Steve Tambellini stepped up to the podium the speculation remained. The Oilers need help on defence, but Yakupov seemed too good to pass up on. And it turns out he was.
“It’s great time of my life now” said a clearly relived Yakupov. He’s young, he reads what is being said and printed. Probably this is because he can’t help it and is curious himself, but likely also because his friends would tell him if he didn’t see it first. Either way, Yakupov had to know that there was uncertainty even if it just meant that the Oilers were traded down.
But relief washed over Yakupov’s face as his name was announced and a triumphant grin took its place as he stepped to the podium and put the Oilers jersey over his head. Yakupov may not realise it yet, but he has already set a new Oilers record; the third consecutive first overall pick. Hopefully the next records are a little bit more positive, and have more to do with the team winning rather than losing.
To the exceptionally large crowd of people, Yakupov gave his message; I’m happy to be staying in Canada, and I’m not going back to Russia any time soon. After all, he has Oilers’ development in just over a week.
Yakupov may not know as much about the Oilers as Taylor Hall professed to on his draft day, but Yakupov knows enough “They’re young but they play good. So I think it’s going to be a great team, and plus me, maybe, and they’ll be pretty good.”
But pretty good won’t be enough by all accounts in Edmonton. After basement finishes for more years than they care to count, the team needs to be much better. And if a playoff spot is still out of the question, they have to at least push for it. That also means that Yakupov, a player who likes to win, who likes to play for his team is going to have to deal with losses along the way, and for a first overall player that is going to be difficult. He can ask Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who know the sentiment well.
For now Yakupov says he feels “No pressure, I’m excited. It’s great, I feel great now.” But of course the spotlight doesn’t disappear anytime soon. Once he arrives back in Edmonton there is not only the large team of media, but also the ravenous fans who will want to talk to him every time he buys something at the grocery store or goes to a movie. Yakupov will have to learn fast about life in the fish bowl.
But there are players that Yakupov can turn to for support though, especially the Oilers’ Russian goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. And whether Khabibulin knows it or not, Yakupov may want a little help with learning English. Yakupov’s grasp of the English language is much improved since the World Juniors, but living with Alex Galchenyuk and then his own family, Yakupov has been sheltered from being forced to learn English at a rapid pace. After two years playing in the OHL, Yakupov should be much further along than he currently is.
Again, this is where living in Edmonton may help. Yakupov is going to face even more cameras, even more microphones and even more questions. But he can take it, he will flourish. In fact, he may even learn to love it with time. While he is his own man, his personality seems to be more of an Ovechkin than a Malkin.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
Although the Oilers have had a difficult past decade… or three, here at Oil Patch, the future looks bright.
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