Ever since Nail Yakupov was selected by the Edmonton Oilers with the first pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, hockey fans have been eagerly anticipating their first glimpse of the young Russian phenom. Unfortunately, the NHL lockout has forced Yakupov overseas to play in the Kontinental Hockey League for the foreseeable future. (Learn how you can follow NHL players during the lockout.)
A few days before Yakupov traveled to Russia to join the KHL—where he is currently among the leaders in goals scored—we had an opportunity to skate with him. We were observing an on-ice practice led by Detroit Red Wings legend Igor Larionov, which also included Yakupov's fellow Russians Sergei Samsonov and Andrei Lactionov. Needless to say, the talent on display was jaw dropping.
Larionov moved the players through a few drills focused on stickhandling, changing direction and shooting. However, the highlight of the practice were competition drills: one-on-one corner battles and a three-on-three scrimmage.
We quickly saw why the Oilers chose Yakupov with the first overall pick. Throughout the practice, he displayed explosive speed, smooth hands, a cannon-like shot and natural goal-scoring ability. As he continues to develop as a player, it’s easy to imagine him evolving into an elite offensive threat like his compatriot, Alexander Ovechkin.
Watch the video above for a glimpse of Yakupov’s impressive talent. Also, check out our previous article on Yakupov's workout.