You may or you may not have read my story on Nail Yakupov in The Hockey News. Well, the thing is, they only gave me 1300 words to work with. So I was left with an immense amount of quotes I didn’t use in the article. I piled them all together so you’d get an idea just what kind of a person this Nail Yakupov is. I will let you decide whether the Oilers should pick him or not.
Here’s what Nail has to say for himself about…
‘Nail’ is good. I drives me nuts when people try to pronounce my name the proper way. Everybody acts super funny and end up with something like ‘Nah-eel’ (which is not 100% accurate). So I tell everyone: ‘You can call me Nail. It’s easier for you, and it’s better for me’.
Same thing goes for my last name. In Russia they put the stress on the second syllable. Here – on the first. I don’t mind it at all. I’m just joking around with you saying I don’t like it and stuff. In all honesty, I’ve gotten used to this and I don’t pay attention to it anymore.
How do I spend my days-off? It depends on where I’m getting back from and how long was the trip. Sometimes I just catch on my sleep. Sometimes we’d get two days-off in a row, but I feel like I didn’t play hard enough the night before so I go to practice. The ice is always available and so is the gym. I can go out for a run. I also try to go to banya (Russian equivalent of sauna) every weekend.
Sometimes I just hang out with my friends. However, I don’t go dancing, clubbing, partying, drinking or anything like that – it’s just not for me.
It’s not that I always feel I didn’t play hard enough, though. Usually, I go to extra practice when we get two days-off in a row. Why? Because I know that the second day-off won’t do me any good. If I don’t practice for two days in a row, it’s hard for me to get ‘into the game’ the game, you know?
Hey, there are idiots everywhere you go. Some of them actually get out there to get you hurt. However, I think that if you get injured – it’s your own fault.
Ok, let’s look at this episode with Mike Halmo. Indeed, he head-shot me, but it was my fault I put my head down. I lost concentration for a minute and was punched. Although, he did use his elbow there. I know there’s nothing in his head. He’s a little crazy. But it was my fault. I forgot where I was. I thought I could dangle my way in no problem, there’s no one around… and then this happened. It’s alright, it happens it hockey. You can’t get insurance for that. You can never forget that it’s not just you out there, but there are 10 other guys or so. In this situation I might have as well crashed into my team’s defenseman.
They are going to hit me. There’s no way to get around it. However, I wouldn’t say that somebody’s trying to knock me out on purpose. Stuff happens, sure. As I said earlier, there are idiots everywhere you go.
Sure, it’s always out there. Some people trash talk me, others slash me… It has been around forever and it’s always going to be out there. By the end of the season it cooled down because I was just not responding to anything. I act as if the guy who tries to annoy me is just not there. That’s it. I’m just doing my job.
What do they call me? They usually go: ‘Hey you! You’re nothing but a piece of s—! You’re no one! Yo, let’s drop’em, show me what you got!’. Sometimes they’d stick their sticks in my laces or elsewhere. There are a lot of techniques.
For me the game against Canada was the final. Not because we won, but because of the atmosphere. Everybody’s in Canada’s jerseys, everybody chants ‘Canada! Canada!’… Beating Canada was something special. After that game we had a team meeting and said to each other: ‘Look, it’s our last game as a team. Let’s play as hard as we can, let’s all play for the team’. We got a little bit unlucky. However, despite this, I’m satisfied with the way the tournament went for us.
I don’t have any preferred genre. It’s not like I’m into just country, rock, pop or something else. If I like a song, regardless of its genre, I download it. It may be a gentle melody and it may be rock. It depends. Although, for usually I listen to club music. Not remixes as they like it in Canada, but the actual club music. I know it’s weird but I can’t help it – I don’t like night clubs, but I like club music.
Let me tell you this, ok? These guys are really weird. I know just a handful of people who resemble us – Russians. I know just a few guys who don’t like to fool around, as it’s common here, and aren’t complete I-don’t-care-about-anything type of guys. Seriously, I know just a few guys who you can really sit down with and they will tell you what’s on their mind, what bothers them, what have they seen… stuff like that.
If I had to name these guys, I’d say Daniel Broussard was one of them. He drove me around the town and we talked quite a lot. Unfortunately, he was traded to Ottawa. One other guy I can think about is Brendan Maxwell, who was traded to Mississauga. He visited me often. We had dinner together and he told me a whole bunch of stories. He doesn’t act as if he’s from North America at all.
Honestly, I don’t even notice it. Sure, I see my name around different websites, newscasts and so on but I don’t get too excited about it. I don’t think too hard about the things people say about me. Sometimes they say that I’m bad because of this, this and this. Sometimes they say that I’m dealing with a lot of pressure on my shoulders because it’s my draft season. Sometimes they don’t say anything. I have a goal. I don’t get distracted by little things.
His nemesis – Mikhail Grigorenko
Pre-draft rankings haven’t affected our relationship. The way we talked to each other at the U18 World Chamionship, we talked at the World Juniors too. We didn’t go after one another because of the draft. We weren’t like: ‘I’m the best! No, I’m the best!’ Most of the time we would talk about Canada. It was my second year here and he was a rookie this season. He’d ask me how I was doing and I’d ask the same. I know that he lived with his mom, sometimes his dad visited them. He really liked it there. Especiallythe rink. All in all we’d talk about general stuff.
Oh, I remember questions about this. At the World Juniors everybody asked me about it. They tried to get a nice quote from me or something like that, I don’t know. Sure, I wanted to score at the World Juniors. Maybe I was the only one who didn’t score (laughs). I was more worried about my game, though. You can help your team without even getting any points, you know? You can block a shot, play safe at your own end and stuff like that.
Certainly, I wasn’t used to it. I mean, I always score and there I didn’t. It really helped that my parents were around. My dad told me right away: ‘Don’t worry. The way the team plays is all that matters. All in its time’. At least, I have 9 assists, a very good game against Team Canada, a silver medal and excellent memories of the tournament. To be honest with you, I didn’t even get sad because I didn’t score.
I don’t think I should be compared to anyone. It’s okay to compare Ovechkin to Kovalchuk. Or Crosby to Ovechkin. Or Sedin to Sedin. These guys have already played at the World Championships and Stanley Cup Finals. They are all grown men and play as such.
I’m still young and I haven’t won anything. I didn’t even win Junior A championship in Russia! I always finished second or third. Then I thought: ‘Maybe I’m going to win the World Juniors?’. And yet I still couldn’t win it. This is why I don’t compare myself to anybody. My goal is to play well. I want to have a successful career, which would only bring me good feelings. After that, if all goes well, I could compare myself to someone. Although, you can compare me to anyone you want to, right? It’s not like I can veto it, eh? (laughs)
Being a team player
I’m not the kind of guy who doesn’t care where his team is in the standings. I’m not the one who thinks: ‘So I’m on the team… whatever. The way it plays, doesn’t affect my pay-cheque’. I always set my bar high. I want to be a top-6 forward. I want to score, I want to get assists and I want to win. I don’t care what team I’m on. Every team has a potential. Every team has good players and coaches. Any team can lose. Every team can win.
I don’t even know what it is – the NHL. I’ve been to five games in Detroit. I went to their locker-room once and met the Red Wings. But I don’t know what it is – the NHL. I don’t know how the NHLers live or how they practice. I know that everything is going to be different. I just don’t know how different. I’m not in a position to discuss whether it’s going to be better or worse.
NHL is one of the top leagues in the world. I think it’s an honor to be a part of any team in this league. I don’t think you have to complicate things in your head. You just have to work hard. Because the second you expose any weakness, you’re going to be eaten and done for.
Being a role model
I know where all this talk is coming from. We play in the CHL – and you can watch the goals we score on YouTube, read about us in the papers and hear people talk about us. The kids back home see this and they go: ‘I wanna play there too! Let’s go to Canada!’ I don’t know why but here they put a lot of trust in people. They give you an opportunity to find your game and develop.
Every player wants to be talked about, written about and his goals shown on TV. You have to understand that you can only be helped to get on a CHL team. After this – it’s all you. Neither your agent, nor your parents will be able to perform for you on the ice. Once you’ve gotten here, you must work twice as much. A chance is all you given.