PITTSBURGH — The Edmonton Oilers selected right wing Nail Yakupov of the OHL Sarnia Sting No. 1 overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, ending weeks of speculation that shrouded the pick in mystery until the moment GM Steve Tambellini revealed it to a hushed Pittsburgh crowd.
The pick completed a hat-trick of first overall selections for the Edmonton Oilers, who won the lottery to take Taylor Hall in 2010 and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011.
Yakupov played for the OHL Sarnia Sting for two seasons after a year in Russian junior. He scored 170 points in 107 games. Yakupov has drawn comparisons to Pavel Bure for his speed, shot and offensive abilities. But he's also a player that plays bigger than his size, throwing his body around and digging in the corners.
There was more uncertainty about this first overall pick than any in recent memory.
Yakupov, while ranked No. 1 by NHL Central Scouting for months, wasn't considered a lock for the top pick. The Draft didn't have the strongest field, and the Oilers already were loaded at forward with young talent like Ryan Nugent Hopkins (No. 1 overall, 2011), Taylor Hall (No. 1 overall, 2010), Jordan Eberle (No. 22 overall, 2008) as well as Alex Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff and Sam Gagner (a restricted free agent).
The Oilers' bigger need was on the blueline. The buzz all day was that the Oilers' braintrust was split on selecting Yakupov or Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips (WHL), the top-rated defenseman in the draw.
Later, defenseman Griffin Reinhart of the Edmonton Oil Kings — quite well known to Oilers ownership — was the rumored target, with the Oilers trading down to get him.
But in the end, it was best player available rather than biggest need. One of the best young offensive teams in the NHL just got a bit better.
When asked if he could step in and play for the Oilers next season, Yakupov responded, "Why not? I think I'm ready for the NHL."
"The skillset Nail has is elite and we've been talking about elite athletes coming to our organization," said Tambellini. "He's dangerous. He's hungry to score goals. I think it's a pretty good fit with the people we have."
Already spoiled with a rich, young core featuring Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov is another asset for the Oilers to help them not be in a lottery pick spot next Draft day in New Jersey. He's already looking forward to joining that young group.
"It's a pretty young team and I want to play with the guys, too," said Yakupov. "[They're] going to be a great team, plus me, maybe."
With additional reporting by Sean Leahy