The coming out party for Nail Yakupov happened last season. Solidifying himself as the best player on the Sarnia Sting, the flashy forward posted 101 points, leading all rookies in scoring by a whopping 18 points – the next closest being linemate, Alex Galchenyuk. The dynamically offensive winger has been the focal point of much hype during the off-season. Questions were raised: Can he do it again? Is he a one-hit wonder? How many points will he score this season? Will he be the OHL’s best player? How high will he get drafted? Is he better than Ovechkin?
Alright, that last question was a bit exaggerated, but early draft comparisons are likening the Nizhnekamsk-native as the second coming of Alexander the Great. Without a moment of hesitation, Yakupov was immediately added to the top 36 players that would attend the NHL’s Research and Development Camp this summer. About a month ago, TSN ran a story on Yakupov and what other players, analysts, and coaches had to say about his skill, speed, and physicality.
“You could tell he’s a dynamic player.”
“I think when you look at Nail Yakupov you start to take a step back and say okay what can’t he do in the game? I think that’s what always differentiates those elite, top players.”
“He has a lot of skill, he’s really explosive and has a good shot. You’ve gotta be aware of those guys when they’re on the ice at all times.”
However, hockey fans have learned that hyping a player up by too high a margin can lead to an ultimate downfall. We all remember the hype surrounding players like Alexander Daigle, Pavel Brendl, Patrik Stefan, Brian Lawton and Greg Joly (talk about a blast from the past). All of those players were hyped and managed to fail miserably – some more so than others. *cough* Patrik Stefan *cough* So why will Yakupov’s hype not affect him in a negative way?
Yakupov doesn’t have height advantage over many other players. What he lacks in size, he makes up for with skill. With quick hands and feet, it doesn’t take much for Nail to blow by defenders. His stickhandling and agility is just as fast as the other aspects of his game. Even at his size, Yakupov packs a punch. He knows how to use every bit of his 170-pound stature to lay a heavy hit and battle deep in the corners. Ryan Strome said:
“I’ve seen him knock some of the biggest defensemen in OHL flying.”
Even Yakupov, himself, mentioned the physicality of the North American game:
“I like the hockey in Canada it’s pretty tough, and I want to play in the NHL. It’s more physical so it’s interesting.”
Also, Sarnia kicked off its season last night with a 5-2 win over the Erie Otters. The night’s leading scorer was none other than Yakupov who scored a goal and added two assists. He played tonight without Galchenyuk and newly acquired 2011 draft picks, Connor Murphy and Reid Boucher. So if my calculations are correct, it looks as though the winger is currently on a pace of reaching 204 points this season.
Clearly the last statement is to be taken in jest, but we can’t beat around the bush. The Tatar has made his mark on the OHL and will continue to grow this season on a very good Sarnia Sting team. Will the hype get to him? It is highly unlikely. This year is nothing more than a proving ground for Yakupov to show that his first year in the OHL was not a fluke. And by the looks of things, after the first game of the season, Yakupov is continuing right where he left off.
The hype train will never cease to stop for flashy Russian winger. When he reaches the NHL level, a new spotlight will be cast on him. Nonetheless, when Nail Yakupov is drafted as a top pick in next year’s NHL Entry draft, that will be the proverbial “nail in the coffin” (no pun intended) for his OHL hype.