NHL

Yakupov visits Oilers, hopes to be taken first overall

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The Canadian Press
6/4/2012 6:12:11 PM
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EDMONTON -- Nail Yakupov posed with replicas of the Stanley Cup for photographers Monday.

But whether or not he chases the real Cup with the Edmonton Oilers won't be known until the NHL draft later this month.

The Oilers hold the first pick for the third straight year, and there's every chance the 18-year-old Sarnia Sting winger could wind up joining 2010 top pick Taylor Hall and 2011 selection Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in Edmonton.

"I want to be first, but I can't say anything for now," Yakupov said when asked about the possibility of being drafted by the Oilers. "I don't know who is going to be first in the draft, so we'll see what happens.

"For now, for me, it's a good organization, to meet the guys. It's a great hockey club, I think. It's also amazing inside the (dressing) room. It would be nice to play here I think."

Yakupov's whirlwind tour ahead of the June 22 draft in Pittsburgh began at last week's NHL scouting combine in Toronto and took him to Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final Saturday in Newark, New Jersey.

In Edmonton, a tour of Rexall Place, a media availability, an appearance on a local radio talk show and a meeting with Oilers owner Daryl Katz were all on the agenda Monday.

Yakupov had 31 goals and 38 assists with the Sting in a 2011-12 season limited to 42 games by injuries after being named OHL rookie of the year for 2010-11 based on a 101-point campaign. He was interviewed by 18 teams at the combine, but it's the Oilers who get the first crack at him.

"Great guys, I think," Yakupov said when asked why he thought the Oilers would be a good fit for him. "Everything good. You've just got to think about hockey.

"I think every team in the NHL is great. For me, I want to play in the NHL. It doesn't matter what team it's going to be. I want to be first, so we'll see what happens."

The dynamic Yakupov, an ethnic Tatar from the Russian region of Tatarstan, has faced just about every question imaginable during the past week or so as teams have poked and prodded him looking for insights.

Between fitness testing and interviews, it can be a grind of a process for top prospects like Yakupov, but he showed plenty of flair and personality Monday.

One reporter asked Yakupov what kind of questions the Oilers asked him.

"Do you have a girlfriend? That was a question," Yakupov said.

Asked another reporter: "About the girlfriend. What did you say?"

"I have two," Yakupov said with a laugh.

Edmonton fans are debating if and how Yakupov will fit in the mix with a young group of forwards that include Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

Also, is Yakupov clearly the best player available ahead of centres Mikhael Grigorenko of the Quebec Remparts and Sarnia linemate Alex Galchenyuk? Then, there's defencemen Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips and Griffin Reinhart of the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Most often a right winger, Yakupov was asked if he can play left wing, which would give the Oilers a one-two punch with Hall on the left side rather than competing with Eberle and Ales Hemsky for ice time on the right side.

"I can be a goalie, too," Yakupov quipped. "I think I could be left and centre and defence."

While the Oilers brought Hall and Tyler Seguin into Edmonton in the summer of 2010 for an extended look after they'd narrowed candidates for the top pick down to two, the field is more wide open now.

Grigorenko will visit Edmonton on Thursday and Murray is coming in Friday. Follow-up meetings to interviews at the combine are planned with Reinhart and Swedish forward Filip Forsberg.

Nail Yakupov (Photo: Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
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