Russian Nail Yakupov first pick in NHL Draft

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PITTSBURGH — Nail Yakupov grew up idolizing Pavel Bure.

The 18-year-old Yakupov is already one up on the Russian Rocket.

The Edmonton Oilers selected the dynamic forward with the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft on Friday night, hoping Yakupov is the next piece of a core that includes center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and winger Taylor Hall, the top picks in the previous two drafts.

It is heady territory for Yakupov, who wears the same No. 10 as Bure, who scored 437 goals during his 12-year career after being taken in the sixth round of the 1989 draft.

Yakupov, who scored 31 goals in 42 games last season for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League, is eager for the next step following weeks of speculation.

“There’s no pressure now, I’m just excited,” he said.

So are the Oilers, who believe the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Yakupov is the attacking sniper they need to return the franchise to respectability.

Yakupov broke Sarnia’s rookie scoring record – held by Steven Stamkos – in 2010-11 when he finished with 49 goals and 101 points.

Yakupov is the first Russian-born player to be taken with the top pick since the Washington Capitals grabbed Alex Ovechkin in 2004.

The Columbus Blue Jackets tried to address their woeful defense by taking Ryan Murray, of the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips, with the second pick. The 6-foot, 198-pound Murray scored nine goals with 22 assists in 46 games last season.

Montreal chose Yakupov’s good friend and Sarnia teammate Alex Galchenyuk with the third overall pick. The talented center missed all but two games of the 2011-12 regular season after tearing a knee ligament.

Galchenyuk, born in the United States to Russian parents, is considered a gifted passer. He totaled 31 goals and 52 assists during the 2010-11 season.

With the top high-flying forwards off the board, teams then went heavy on defense in a draft considered short on offensive star power.

The New York Islanders chose defenseman Griffin Reinhart with the fourth pick, starting a run of seven consecutive defensemen taken. The eight blue-liners picked in the top 10 is a draft record.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, however, broke up the monotony and gave the proceedings a major jolt when they traded center Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes.

He will join brother Eric in Carolina. Pittsburgh received Carolina’s first-round pick as well as center Brandon Sutter and defenseman Brian Dumolin. The Penguins drafted defenseman Derrick Pouliot with the eighth overall pick, acquired in the deal.


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