The old saying is you never get a second chance to make a first impression. If that’s true, Nail Yakupov did considerably better in his audition in front of reporters at Rexall Place today than I did with him. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to take another swing at it after June 22.
With Yakupov, 18, being the consensus top prospect for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and the Edmonton Oilers holding the first overall pick for the third consecutive year, there’s a good chance the dynamic Sarnia Sting winger will be back in town when training camp opens this fall.
Already run ragged by a schedule that included fitness testing and interviews with 18 different teams at the NHL Combine, plus a trip to Game 2 of the Stanley Cup mismatch between the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils, Yakupov was witty and accommodating in his command performance with local media.
As everybody leaned in on Yakupov outside the dressing room, I lobbed the first question. Figuring humour would be a good ice-breaker, I asked Yakupov what I thought was a decent opener: "So, are there any questions you haven’t heard yet?" Apparently there was a communication breakdown – or I’m just slurring my words again.
"I’m not hurt right now, so I’m good," Yakupov said. I don’t want to talk about my injuries." With that, it was on to the next question. Thanks for coming. "Uh, Nail. It I said "heard" not hurt . . . never mind."
Not the first player to think I’m a jerk . . .
GIFT OF THE GAB
Spending 15 or 20 minutes with a player like Yakupov in a staged meet and greet doesn’t lend a whole lot of honest insight into what makes a kid tick. That said, he was impressive, given the circumstances, and loose, given the format. He tossed out a couple of pretty good lines, actually.
Asked by CTV’s Adam Cook if he’d been asked any odd questions by the Oilers, Yakupov said: "Do you have a girlfriend? That was a question." So Terry Jones of the The Sun chimed in: "About the girlfriend. What did you say?" "I have two,’ Yakupov said."One in Sarnia and one in Russia . . . I’m going to try for a third in Edmonton, so we’ll see."
When Jason Gregor asked a question that’s on the minds of a lot of Oilers fans – if Yakupov would be as comfortable playing on left wing as opposed to the right side, where he usually plays – Yakupov was quick on the draw with the wit again. "I can be a goalie, too," he said. "I think I could be left and centre and defense."
So it went. Not altogether painful for a staged event where pat answers – "I think (fill-in-the-blank) is a good hockey town" and "I’d be happy to play for the (insert-name-of-team-here)" – are the norm. Yakupov’s discussion with us is here. Mikhail Grigorenko and Ryan Murray will take a run at the same bit later this week.
All things considered, Yakupov came off just fine, especially after having to overcome the loaded question about injuries that limited him to 42 games this season from the knucklehead reporter trying to play hardball right off the hop.
Heard, Nail. Not hurt. Let’s take another run at it, say June 22, shall we?
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.