The face that launched a thousand rumors.
Position: Right Wing
Born: October 6, 1993
We were all wrong about Nail Yakupov in a way. Lost in the midst of twitter battles of wit was a missed detail that should be resolved sooner rather than later. ‘Fail for Nail’ doesn’t rhyme, not even a little bit. It’s pronounced “Nah-eel” — any and all remaining witticisms ought to be adjusted accordingly.
Other than that, everything you’ve been told is true.
Nail Yakupov is an exceptional talent, the best in this draft as things stand. Barring injury he’ll be a very good NHL hockey player. Yet, it still remains to be seen how good Yakupov can be. Playing for the small market Sarnia Sting, his junior career was somewhat obscured despite breaking records once held by Sting superstar Steven Stamkos. When it was his time to shine at the World Juniors, his nine points — all assists — in seven games were overshadowed by the flair of teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov who received the shower of boos from Canadian fans for his stellar play. When the Sting loaded up for a run at the OHL Championship and Memorial Cup, an injury to Yakupov was the death blow to a hobbled team and their season was brought to an early, unfortunate end.
After a run of phenoms being taken first overall, we finally have one with a little bit of mystery to him in Yakupov. There’s no lone reason for the very charismatic 19 year old to be obscured the way he has. He’s got a distinct personality, he’s a very good hockey player and he’s playing in North America — it’s not as though he’s behind the iron curtain of the KHL. What gives?
“One of the reasons why he hasn’t got as much hype is he was kind of babied with media stuff and he didn’t do a whole lot initially,” said Neate Sager, editor of Yahoo!’s Buzzing the Net. ”Perhaps it was fatigue with OHL kids going first because they had four in a row there (Kane, Stamkos, Tavares, Hall) and it got to a point where we’ve all seen the OHL hotshot and the novelty had worn off. People have gotten used to that type of player with Nugent-Hopkins last year — even before Kane going back to Crosby.”
The proximity of Sarnia to major Canadian media areas also doesn’t help Yakupov’s cause. For those not up to speed on Canadian geography, Sarnia sits roughly five hours away from Toronto. Not exactly a stone’s throw away and certainly enough distance to deter consistent media attention.
“He was never really pushed to do media stuff and Sarnia isn’t a London or a Kitchener or a Windsor.” said Sager. “It’s a small market and if he played for the London Knights the Toronto media can go over and do stuff on him. Same goes if he plays for Kitchener or Barrie.”
The language barrier has also come into play for Yakupov, but he has made a concerted effort to learn English and has gotten better with each appearance. Clearly, his star can’t go anywhere but up.
On the ice, Yakupov’s ceiling is ambivalent. While he has an obvious flair for putting points on the board, there’s no clear cut projection for how he will translate his Sting numbers — many of which broke records held by Stamkos — into NHL production. Will he be your run of the mill scorer or is he a future Art Ross and Hart Trophy winner?
“I think he can be quite good. I don’t think he’s in the Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin echelon but it’ll be interesting to see does he have a John Tavares upside — maybe Tavares isn’t the best example because he was supposed to be a phenom but he wasn’t put in situations that help him like having four coaches in Oshawa and going to the Islanders — but with Yakupov you don’t see a lot of defensive detail but coaches can accept that from a young player, especially one that can change a game like Yakupov can,” said Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News. “Pavel Bure is the name that comes up the most often, just in terms of that scoring prowess and that game changing ability. ”
With those expectations come questions of how he would fare as the face of a franchise. While a selection by Edmonton wouldn’t put Yakupov squarely in the limelight, a Rick Nash-free Columbus would need a star to build the team around, a face to put on the posters. Yakupov possesses the personality for camera time, but in many NHL markets the camera can become a microscope very quickly.
“On a team where he’s not the man, where he’s your second best player, you’d be in fantastic shape. In Edmonton he’d be option three or four right now based on all the offensive options they have,” said Kennedy.
“Columbus would be a very interesting scenario too because in that case, if Rick Nash is gone, Yakupov is your big forward depending on what they get back and I think that he’d be very good as the face of a franchise because he is so charismatic but I don’t know what he can be on his own. But having said that, I can see Yakupov putting up Patrick Kane numbers in that he’s kind of good for 70-80 points.”
If you’re keeping score at home, players who are money in the bank for 70 points do not grow on trees.
Whoever drafts Nail Yakupov is getting the complete package, the real deal. He’s a player who can be the name on the back of every jersey in the stands, he can do the goofy TV spots for cable television, he can lead your team in scoring. He can be your cornerstone, and if he isn’t, you’re going to be very good for a very long time.
Now it’s just a matter of where he ends up.
From the horse’s mouth