A Russian up-and-comer has been snatched up as the first overall pick at the NHL draft in Pittsburg. 18-year-old forward Nail Yakupov was recruited by the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night.
Yakupov is only the third Russian to top the draft, following in the footsteps of star compatriots Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Ovechkin.
The ethnic Tatar stepped into the spotlight with his top-scoring performance for the Sarnia Sting, a Canadian junior ice hockey team. He scored 31 goals in 42 games last season and broke Steven Stamkos' franchise rookie scoring record in 2010-11 by finishing with 49 goals and 101 points. He was also part of Russia's silver-winning side at the World Junior Championships earlier this year.
“There's no pressure now, I'm just excited,” he said.
Yakupov joins Edmonton’s young core that includes center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the top selection in 2011, and winger Taylor Hall, the first pick in 2010.
The Columbus Blue Jackets bolstered their weak defense by taking Ryan Murray of the Western Hockey League's Everett Silvertips with the second pick, while Montreal chose Yakupov's good friend and Sarnia teammate Alex Galchenyuk as the third overall pick.
The Buffalo Sabres took Yakupov’s Russian teammate, center Mikhail Grigorenko, as the No. 12 selection. He led rookies in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in scoring last season, netting 40 goals and adding 45 assists for the Quebec Remparts.
Yet another Russian, Andrey Vasilevsky, became the country’s first goalie to be picked at the NHL draft. The 17 year old was staked by the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s still not clear, however, when the Russian will join the NHL, as he has a two-year contract with Salavat Uylaev’s farm club, Tolpar.