Oilers take Yakupov
PITTSBURGH—The Edmonton Oilers are getting tired of going first in the NHL draft and Nail Yakupov knows part of his job is to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Edmonton, picking No. 1 for the third straight year, grabbed the speedy Russian forward with the top pick on Friday. The Oilers believe the dazzling 18-year-old can join Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins—the No. 1 picks the previous two years—in returning the once proud franchise to relevance.
“I think it’s going to be a great team,” he said after becoming the first Russian taken No. 1 since Washington selected Alex Ovechkin in 2004.
Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov give the Oilers the kind of core to build around, but even as they celebrated Yakupov’s rise, they caught a glimpse of how nothing lasts forever in the NHL.
Barely an hour after Yakupov donned his blue Edmonton sweater, the draft host Pittsburgh Penguins shook up the proceedings by sending centre Jordan Staal to Carolina—reuniting him with older brother Eric—for centre Brandon Sutter, defenceman Brian Dumoulin and a first-round pick they used to select defenceman Derrick Pouliot.
The 23-year-old Staal, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, provided the backbone that turned the Penguins into perennial Stanley Cup contenders. Now he’s heading south after declining a contract extension.
The Penguins weren’t done, trading defenceman Zbynek Michalek to Phoenix for two players and a third-round pick just after the end of the first round.
The draft continues Saturday, with more fireworks expected.
Yakupov and Staal provided enough on Friday night.
The charismatic Yakupov models his game after former NHL star Pavel Bure, and in a way the youngster already has a leg up on the Russian Rocket.
Bure scored 437 goals during his 12-year career, but he wasn’t taken until the sixth round of the 1989 draft.
Yakupov, who spent the last two seasons with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League, didn’t have to wait nearly as long to hear his name called.
Yakupov, who scored 31 goals in 42 games last season, is eager for the next step following weeks of speculation.
Born in the Republic of Tatarstan in Russia, Yakupov has consistently shot down speculation he is going to return to his homeland and play in the Kontinental Hockey League. He stressed repeatedly in the days leading up to the draft that the NHL is “the best league in the world.”
Yakupov broke Sarnia’s rookie scoring record—previously held by Steven Stamkos—in the 2010-11 season when he finished with 49 goals and 101 points.
The Columbus Blue Jackets continued to shore up their blue line by taking Ryan Murray of the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips with the second pick. The 6-foot, 198-pound Murray had nine goals and 22 assists in 46 games last season.
With the top high-flying forwards off the board, teams then went heavy on defence in a draft considered short on offensive star power.
The New York Islanders chose defenceman Griffin Reinhart with the fourth pick, starting a run of seven straight defencemen taken.
Among them was Derrick Pouliot, taken eighth overall. That Pouliot was taken so high wasn’t remarkable, it was the team that got the pick to grab him that shook up the night.
The Hurricanes had the eighth selection but things changed quickly when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman walked onto the stage and announced a trade the hometown crowd “might want to hear.”
Moments later, Pouliot pulled on a black Pittsburgh jersey.
Washington ended the run on defencemen, taking centre Filip Forsberg with the No. 11 pick.
The Buffalo Sabres took centre Mikhail Grigorenko, who like Yakupov is from Russia, with the No. 12 selection.
The massive 6-foot-3, 200-pound Grigorenko led rookies in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in scoring last season, netting 40 goals and adding 45 assists for the Quebec Remparts.
The Boston Bruins chose goalie Malcolm Subban with the No. 24 pick. Subban’s older brother, P.K., is a forward with the Canadians.
Phoenix drafted forward Henrik Samuelsson at No. 27. Samuelsson’s father, Ulf, played 1,080 games in the NHL and won two Stanley Cup titles with Pittsburgh.