Yakupov taken by Oilers with top pick in NHL Draft
PITTSBURGH (AP) — 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.
The 18-year-old Murray became the youngest player since Paul Kariya in 1993 to play for Team Canada in the World Championships this spring.
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. He already speaks two languages and joked that he had better start picking up French.
“I think I have classes starting next week,” he said with a laugh.
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 straight defensemen taken. The eight blue-liners picked in the top 10 is a draft record.
The host Pittsburgh Penguins, however, broke up the monotony and gave the proceedings a major jolt when they traded center Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes.
The 23-year-old Staal, entering the final year of his contract, reportedly turned down a lengthy extension offer from the Penguins this week. 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.
The announcement by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman drew a roar from the crowd that packed Consol Energy Center. Staal helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2009 and is considered one of the top two-way forwards in the game.
Penguins general manager Ray Shero thanked Staal for his contributions to the team’s success and then quickly moved to grab Pouliot, of the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League.
The 18-year-old Pouliot had 11 goals and 48 assists for the Winterhawks last season.
Washington ended the run on defensemen, taking center Filip Forsberg with the No. 11 pick. The 17-year-old Forsberg was the youngest player on Team Sweden at the 2012 World Junior championships. Forsberg said he models his game after former NHL star Peter Forsberg, though the two aren’t related.
The Buffalo Sabres took center 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.