PITTSBURGH — The Edmonton Oilers kept everyone guessing. There was no declaration when they won the NHL draft lottery and no indications up until 7:14 on Friday night whom they’d take with the No. 1 pick.
Sure, the Oilers have plenty of young star forwards, but that didn’t stop them from adding Nail Yakupov to that group. The Russian winger with the deft touch and sterling numbers could fit in swimmingly in a club that includes former first-rounders Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan-Nugent Hopkins.
Yakupov, who played for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League, looks ready to jump in right away.
“He’s already adapted to living and playing hockey in North America, and he’s shown his talent and he is a true talent. There’s very few players that you could say they have the talent to go out and change the complexion of a game,” head of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said. “That’s kind of what makes him stand out. He can do something where someone would say, ‘This kid’s worth the price of admission.’”
Although he has fielded plenty of questions about the Kontinental Hockey League, Yakupov has made something perfectly clear.
“I’m ready for NHL. I want to try to play NHL,” he said Thursday. “I said just what I feel inside and I say I want to play in NHL. … It’s not my deal what teams said, they not trust me or not, it’s not my problem. I just want to play in NHL.”
Yakupov put up 31 goals and 38 assists in 42 games last season.
He has drawn comparisons to Pavel Bure, but it’s his own raw talent that should help the Oilers‘ rebuilding project move forward.
“I know it’s pretty young team. They have good chance for the next years to play for a Stanley Cup,” he said. “I think they have great team. It’s a great town, great rink and great staff.”