By all accounts, Nail Yakupov‘s rookie season in the OHL this year was a huge success.
In fact, no other first year player made more of an impact for his team than the dynamic Russian ‘Pocket Rocket,’ scoring an incredible 101 points, on 49 goals and 52 assists in 65 games for his Sarnia Sting squad. Those totals sat him third overall in the entire league in scoring, and first overall on his team, en route to capturing both the OHL and CHL Rookie of the Year awards.
He was also lights out at the 2011 IIHF World Under-18’s this past April, scoring six goals and 13 points in seven games for Russia, while helping his country capture a bronze medal. The second overall pick in the 2010 CHL Import Draft, Yakupov has tremendous wheels to go with a sick array of offensive weaponry that makes him almost impossible to stop.
He seems to be able to score at will, has tremendous puck skills, excellent vision and hockey sense, a nice, accurate shot and plays the game at a high octane level. Yakupov is a solid five-foot-10, 175-pounds and uses his frame to get physically engaged whenever the opportunity arises. There is so much to like about the crafty forward and NHL scouts are already salivating at the possibilities of selecting him come the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
I had the chance to catch up with the highly touted prospect, for a quick Q and A.
Who has been your biggest help and influence in developing your game so far?
Nail: My father, he has helped me every step of the way so far with advice and encouragement.
You are such an extremely skilled offensive player, what do you see being your best attributes?
Nail: I think my speed, vision and ability to score are my main best attributes.
Is there an NHLer you style your game after?
Nail: I would have to say I try and play like Pavel Bure.
What is the highlight of your career so far?
Nail: Just doing so well this year, and putting up a lot of points in the OHL. It was a real honor to win OHL and CHL Rookie of the Year.
You’ve racked up a ton of goals with Sarnia and while playing with Russia at the 2011 World Under-18’s, do you have one that stands out as your biggest?
Nail: There were many this year, so really hard to pick just one.
What was your ‘welcome moment’ to the OHL?
Nail: In my first game in the league, it was very fast, and the power plays were so well structured.
Sarnia failed to make the playoffs in 2010-11, but you guys have such a great young team there. Looking forward to next season, how do you like the make-up of the club, and your chances of making a run?
Nail: I love my team there, I think we are going to have a really good year, and personally I plan on playing my best hockey.
In your opinion, who is the best player you have ever played with and against?
Nail: I would have to say Evgeny Kuznetsov, he is a real big player, who is very strong and hard to play against.
With 2012 being your NHL draft year do you feel any pressure to perform next season?
Nail: No, there is no pressure. I love to play hockey, so I will just got out there, have fun and play my best.
Favourite NHL team?
Nail: The Vancouver Canucks.
What does your summer look like for training and hockey is concerned?
Nail: I will be working with my trainer, just getting prepared so I am ready for next season.
What is the first thing you’d buy after signing your first pro contract?
Nail: Good question, I think I’d just save my money to buy something sweet.
Who was your roommate on the road this season, and how was he to stay with?
Nail: Galy, Alex Galchenyuk. He is a great player, and good guy, I’m happy to call him my friend.