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Yakupov ready to go pro with or without NHL

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Nail Yakupov says he’s not sure what the future holds for him in the event of an NHL lockout.

His agent, former NHLer Igor Larionov, has said that the top pick of the Edmonton Oilers would play in either the KHL or Europe – but Yakupov himself is uncertain.

“Nobody knows,” said the 18-year-old Tuesday on where he would play in the event of labour strife. “And I don’t know, too.”

The only thing he knows with any great certainty is that he won’t be returning to the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting, where he spent two seasons living with Montreal Canadiens draft pick Alex Galchenyuk and his family.

“No,” he said of a Sarnia return, before quickly added the following caveat.

“Yeah, but just for a visit. I have a lot of friends there and I have my second family – the Galchenyuk family – I want to see [Alex Galchenyuk Sr.] and Gally’s mom, so I’d like to go and see the family for a couple days. Go to the rink and see my GM and coaches who have helped me and supported me for two years. The fans in Sarnia are amazing, you know, I love the fans and they probably love me, too.”

Standing before a group of reporters at the 2012 NHLPA Rookie Showcase in Toronto, Yakupov fielded the lion’s share of questions regarding the ongoing talks between the NHL and players’ union over a new collective bargaining agreement.

“I’m not thinking about a lockout,” said Yakupov. “I [want] to just do my job, just working. I just want to play and get ready for camp and we’ll see what happens.

“It’s not my deal, so I can’t think about that right now. If it happens, it happens.”

There was a point where he looked back towards Galchenyuk, an American-born Russian, for a little help with a translation. Since the third overall pick of the Canadiens was busy doing his own interviews, Yakupov was left to ask for a clarification instead.

At this point in his young career he still seems excited about the prospect of doing interviews with a group of reporters much larger than any he’d see on a regular night in Sarnia.

“Yeah, for now I’m enjoying it,” he said of the media attention.

Much like signing autographs, or in this case, posing for hockey cards, Yakupov sees it all as part of his new job.

“You have to give interviews, that’s for sure,” said Yakupov. “That’s your career, right? You play hockey, you do media and that’s part of your job, too… I’m not tired of all of you guys, if you want to question, you can give me a question.”

So how hard is it to prepare for your first NHL season when it’s surrounded by so much uncertainty?

“I might be in the NHL, or I’ll go somewhere to play for sure,” he said.

Any idea of where that will be?

“Idea? I want to play hockey, that’s my idea,” said Yakupov. “Somewhere.”

Sunaya Sapurji is the Junior Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports.
Email: sunaya@yahoo-inc.com | Twitter @Sunayas

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