Nail Yakupov on being a Muslim, Don Cherry, the draft combine and playing in Canada

OilersNation’s Andrey Osadchenko recently had an opportunity to talk to top 2012 Draft prospect Nail Yakupov again, and the two covered a lot of ground.  Yakupov went into detail about what his Muslim faith means for his hockey career, what it was like to meet Don Cherry, how he handled the draft combine, and why he hopes to be drafted by and play for a Canadian team.

AO: You recently said that you’re not a Russian but a Muslim. What did you mean by that?

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NY: This is what happened. I was asked about the ‘Russian Factor’. I said it had nothing to do with me because everyone has his own path. Generalization is wrong. Don’t tell me that I’m going to get drunk all the time or smoke or anything. Because it’s not going to happen. And then I said that if you really look into this I’m not a Russian but a Tatar. [AO: In Russian language there are two words for ‘Russian’. One meaning ethnicity, the other – nationality. However, in English ‘Russian’ means both, which understandably created confusion] I didn’t mean to say anything what now people think I did. I love Russia, I played for Team Russia and hopefully I will play for Team Russia again. But I said this word and people zeroed in on it.

[Canadians] just don’t know who Tatars are. I’m telling them: ‘I’m Tatar’. And they go: ‘What’s a Tatar?’ I had to explain it. That’s when I mentioned the Muslim thing. Now everybody in Russia thinks I’m public enemy #1. I didn’t mean to offend anybody. It’s not my fault I was born a Tatar and a Muslim, right? What do I do now – hang myself? Tatarstan is part of Russia. I played for Team Russia and I have a Russian passport. When they asked me about the ‘Russian Factor’ I tried to make a joke out of it. However, I was clear about what I meant, wasn’t I? I meant – generalization is wrong. Everybody has his own path.

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AO: How religious are you? What if the Ramadan happens to be during the season, are you going to fast? This may seriously affect your game.

NY: No, I don’t do stuff like that. I just believe in God and go to mosque if I have a chance. I just live. Don’t worry, I’m not going to disappear during the season because of my religious beliefs.

AO: Andrey Vasilevskyi had 28 interviews during the Combine Tests in Toronto. How many did you have?

NY: 18.

AO: Somebody actually thinks you’re going to be available 18th overall?

NY: It’s clear that I can’t be drafted by 18 teams. However, a lot of teams just want to get to know you better. They want to know what kind of a person you are. They even discuss it among themselves. You know, we didn’t get much out of him but maybe he really opened up to Minnesota or Chicago? That kind of thing. Some teams were quite honest about it too. They were like: ‘Hey, we know you won’t be available for us. So how about we just talk? What’s up? How’s it going?’

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AO: Evgeny Kuznetsov was asked a few years ago if he was into drinking, girls and smoking. Did you get questions like this?

NY: No, nobody tried to get under my skin. Everybody asked me pretty much the same questions. Most of them were about hockey and how do I practice in summer. It was interesting. Sometimes I felt comfortable and sometimes not because people would look at me really seriously and asked questions accordingly. There were some interviews where I just had to say: ‘Look, you guys really made me sweat here. Do you people ever smile?’ I tried to loosen them up a little bit. Because they looked at me as if they were about to tear me apart.

AO: You also met with Don Cherry who is well-known for how much he ‘loves’ Russians.

NY: So I was told, yes. I stood next to him on TV. He’s a good guy. We talked and joked around. I didn’t feel that he dislikes me in any way. I’ve also heard he loves top prospects. He wasn’t like: ‘Oh, you Russians are all scum!’ Seriously, Don Cherry is a cool guy. I liked him.

AO: I wouldn’t be far off if I suggested that you hadn’t flown like this like you did last week, right?

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NY: You got that right. After I came to the Combine Tests in Toronto, I had 8 flights. I had to go to New York and back, then to Edmonton and back, and then catch a flight back home. It’s okay. It’s not like I could say ‘no’ to this.

AO: And you always had to look good.

NY: I always look good. It’s not a problem for me. I just need a few hours to rest and I’m good to go. Besides, they didn’t drag me to interviews right from the plane.

AO: Everybody is scared of the bicycle at the Combine Tests. You were probably the only one who was getting on it with a smile.

NY: (laughs) I smiled before every test. Even before the bicycle. I felt pretty good. I was eager to try all of this. I was always talking and joking around with the guys, it was fun. Of course, it’s difficult. But what can you do? I like to smile. Maybe it’s just something I do. People say I’ve got a wonderful smile. So I smile.

AO: But this bicycle is a nightmare!

NY: Sure is. It’s a part of hockey. And I love hockey. I know that hockey games are just part of it. There’s also gym, tests and many other things. Interviews with reporters as well. My dad and my family taught me this – no matter how difficult it is, you have to do it with a smile. If you’re in a good mood, it’s easier to get stuff done. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and everything’s going to be ok. Besides, when you’re on that bicycle people cheer for you. And you understand yourself that if you’re going to make it to the NHL, it’s only going to get tougher. This is why in one of my interviews I said that this bicycle was easy for me.

AO: From Toronto you went to New Jersey to watch Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. How did you like it?

NY: It was great. They got a new rink, it’s very big. Before the game we went to meet the players in the locker-room. We spoke to 4 guys who speak Russian on the Devils, and to Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty from the Kings.

AO: You didn’t talk to Voynov or Loktionov?

NY: Voynov just said ’Hi’ and walked away and Loktionov was on the ice with his coach at this time. It was interesting to take in the atmosphere of the Stanley Cup Finals. I had goosebumps all over me! Sure, maybe it was a slow-pace game but you have got to love the way they battle on pure character! Everyone battles for the puck. Everyone understands that there’s no luxury to make a mistake, so they play very calmly and don’t try to do anything unusual. I agree, it wasn’t exciting hockey but interesting nevertheless. Besides it went to overtime. Our trip was well-organized too. They met us, took us to lunch, then to the locker-room, then we got on TV, we were interviewed and taking pictures with fans. It was fun. I want to play in the NHL as soon as possible.

AO: All of the guys who were recently drafted 1st overall became NHLers right away. Do you feel ready for this?

NY: I don’t like comparing myself to other people. Especially with those who already made it to the NHL. Because they are already there and I just finished my season in a junior league. Hopefully, I get drafted first overall and then we’ll see. I will work hard and do everything I can to make it to the NHL. It’s easy to say from the stands that you’d this and that differently. But these are men who play there. And we got to see what these men are like. However, I’m not afraid of anything. I think I can play there. You just have to work hard and I’m ready for this.

AO: In one of your interviews you said that you don’t have any preferences at the draft except for one – you want to be drafted by a Canadian team. Why?

NY: My goal is to play in the NHL. It’s my #1 priority. It doesn’t matter what team am I on. I just spent 2 years in Canada and I really like this country. I’ve fallen in love with it. I never lived in USA so I can’t say anything about this country. I feel comfortable in Canada. I don’t know who’s going to draft me. I will play for any team.

AO: Maybe you should have put on Canadian shirt just like Mikhail Grigorenko did?

NY: (smiles) I don’t have a shirt like this. Don’t worry I got other shirts and they are all great.

AO: Your agent, Igor Larionov, recently said that you’re starting to talk to the media in the ‘right’ way. What did he mean by that?

NY: My family always helps me with advice. My agent also tells me what I should say in different situations. Eventually I learned it. About 3-4 years ago I thought it was easy – you just say whatever is on your mind. Now I realize that it’s very serious. You have to be prepared for an interview. You have to know what to say and when. I can’t really explain it. I just know what I’m supposed to answer in certain situations. My mom, dad, uncle, agents and friends helped me with this. Did I answer your question in the ‘right’ way? (laughs)

Recently by Andrey Osadchenko

  • #94 sized hole where my heart used to be...

    2 very high quality interviews now with Yaks really great work by Andrey. i really like the part where he explained the “I’m not russian” thing and does anyone else get the feeling Yaks is like the least russian Russain in a while? this is definitely the guy we should be drafting

  • Greenlingj

    I have been following this kid for years, and I must say as a Edmonton Oiler Fan the thought of him being here is awesome.

    The cocky self assured attitude, positive outlook, talent, and level of compete is everywhere in this interview, and is second to none.

    I understand the Oilers need back end support, but kids like this don’t come by very often.

  • Greenlingj

    and we are still debating taking this kid 1st overall, why?

    it will bite us in the butt to ignore his desrie and talent.

    good thing we brought in MacT to bring some sanity to the asylum (i hope).

    take NAIL.

  • RPG

    He sounds like a mature, committed and intelligent young man. Very impressed.

    As a Canucks fan, I know I will regret this later, but the Oilers have got to take this guy.

  • Aside from the skill and speed, the other attribute that will make this kid a surefire star is that he loves hockey and it’s his number 1 priority in life. Gotta work hard to realize your potential in this league, and I think this kids has got it.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Undoubtebly the best export out of Tatarstan since the yummy topping for my fish and chips.

    The kid does seem to be focused and determined. He certainly appears to have the “it” factor. Not sure the Oil are building a Stanley Cup winner, but they will be fun to watch. The kid can fly, shoot the puck and apparently isn’t scared of anything. Looking forward to watching him play – for the Oil. Right, Dithers?

  • It seems like he has a great attitude and work ethic. Why anyone wouldn’t want him on the Oilers is beyond me.

    And further, who cares if he isn’t a true ‘#1 RW’. Fine, perfect, we need a killer 2nd line too.

  • Gerald R. Ford

    Wow. I like this kid more every day. I really hope Burkie doesn’t wave something shiny in front of Tambo to steal that pick. Hopefully (the original) 14 was brought in to smack ST’s knuckles with a metal ruler every time he tries to reach for the phone…

  • The Soup Fascist

    I agree this kids is gold and is would be perfect for levelling out the top 6. After listening to MacT’s conference yesterday I got the feeling from some of the things he said that the only way they don’t pick him is if a team offers up a #1 Offensive Defenseman. MacT stated yesterday that offensive wins games and championships, no way they don’t take this kid.

  • I read a quote the other day: If you chase after 2 rabbits, you won’t catch one.

    Hall is rabbit 1,Yak is #2 on the 2nd line, catch them if you can. It would be fun to watch assuming Yak pans out.

  • RPG

    I couldn’t help but notice that Dustin Brown is listed at 6’0″ and 205 lbs. While Yakupov is listed at 5’11” and 190 lbs. From what I have seen of Yakupov (highlight clips) he is a guy who likes to be physical. Not saying he will be a wrecking ball like Brown but we might have a more physical winger than we think or atleast one that will not be pushed around.

    Draft him….he is what we need.

  • Clyde Frog

    Yak: As a 16 year old he potted almost 50 goals and over 100 points. Better than Taylor, Tyler, RNH & Galchenyuk.

    He is 1 inch shorter and 10-20 pounds heavier than the BIG centre everyone wants.

    In an injury shortened season he ended up with 8 less goals and 16 less points than Grigorenko (Who never broke the 100pt plateau in the CHL)

    Ryan Murray’s skill seems to go for miles, but his production has never been amazing on a bad team. Yak produced with or without his Star centre.

    Yak is a gym rat, dedicated to his craft and being the best. He is not a drinker and would probably be isolated from the party drugs that can derail talent and anger Chris Pronger.

    Last year at the Draft Bob McKenzie spent more time talking about Yakupov then any of the actual top 5 picks.

    Yakupov is the concensus #1 pick, our scouting department has shown to be very good in the 1st round (When they take the talent on the board, as apposed to guessing and wishing themselves better and going offboard)

    His knock? He doesn’t play centre and he was injured. Yet despite suffering from 2 distinct injuries, he still played 42 games (over 60% of the season)and produced at better than a ppg.

    All of this yet people still dream about Galchenyuck’s possible 300 pt season, yet never once do they think he could have not produced and slipped down the draft board… (As many 18 year olds do)

    I don’t know how this is a debate, unless someone comes out and states that his injuries are the type that have developed into chronic and could shorten his career. Which to date no-one has, the kid is head and shoulders above everyone else in terms of production today, last year and gives every indication of doing the same moving on.

  • I too think this guy is a cant miss prospect but I also think that being in the situation that we are in, ( no top defenseman or large centre) this might be the only opportunity in recent history to “cash in”.

    Hypothetically if TO was to offer us Gardiner, swap picks, and give us their second round pick…… many people would be opposed to that? This would give us the opportunity to potentially land Galchenyuk, or Grigerenko, or Foresberg, ………..this is highly appealing.

    Whatever the options are, I’m just so happy that someone is watching over the highly incompetent Tamby to ensure he does not do anything too stupid!

  • The Soup Fascist


    Not to name drop, but briefly met Dustin Brown. No way he is 6’0″ and 205. He is not a very big guy, which makes his hitting ability even more amazing. I was struck by how small he actually was. I would be shocked if he was anything more than 5’10” and 185 lbs. This was a couple of years ago, and possibly he put on weight but he almost certainly did not grow 2″.

    By all accounts Yakupov is in reality at least 5’11” and 190 and will get bigger. At the end of the day hard hitters typically are not huge but very solid, fast and are not afraid to accelerate “through people”. I know the Oil are not drafting him as a hitter, but you are right it seems to be a component he has and we could use in our top 6.

  • blueorangekoolaid

    Imagine a true #1 line of #1’s. Hall, RNH and Yak. Scary I think. RNH with 100 assists and Hall and Yak 50 goals each? Sounds good to me. Then a second of Hemsky (move to LW) Gagner and Ebs. More playmaking style. Handle the toughs against more mobile defensive teams with better puck movement. #1’s annihilate slower teams with mad speed.

    Then a 3rd line of Horcoff (where he belongs), Smyth (if he’ll take the lower pay and diminished role) and maybe Jones. Crazy good shutdown line.

    4th line can vary depending on the night and the need for physical presence. Lander/Belanger, Paajarvi/Eager and Petrell/someone else.

    Then just need to woo J. Schultz, add one more d-man and hope Dubnyk is ready to be a #1.

    Maybe it’s all a pipe dream but October is a long way away. This is all we have to think about right now.

  • CaptainLander

    That dressing room seems like that could use a guy that smiles all the time. He seems to have all the right tools and the right attitude. I can’t see the Oil taking anyone else.

  • TwoSkidoos

    The one thing that strikes me about Yak is his honesty – I actually believe him when he says he loves hockey and that he wants to come to a Canadian city.

    OR, he’s a great actor, but I’ll take the former.

    • GVBlackhawk

      The Oilers are not taking Murray first. Murray will not win the Calder on the Oilers or any other team. We’re not talking about a Doughty or Pietrangelo type of player here.

      The only question is whether or not Horcoff will give up his number 10 to Nail.

      • BigE91

        Again with Horcoff giving up his number to a rookie? Nothing like trying to destroy a dressing rooms continuity and hierarchy. #10 will be available when Yakupov has proven himself and Horcoff has moved on. Right now he is the captain of this team and will likely be asked to take a diminished on ice role in the fall. Why not ask him to clean the dressing room toilets while you are taking away his number, letter and dignity?

        And Lowe giving #4 to Hall is an entirelydifferent circumstance and doesn’t even compare.

        • GVBlackhawk

          I did not say take away Horcoff’s number. I wondered if Horc would give Nail his number. Big difference BigE91. You are taking this to heart. If I was a betting man, I would think Horc will be wearing 10 and a ‘C’. However, it is only a matter of time before Nail is wearing 10 and Hall the ‘C’.

          Personally, I will get a Yakupov 10 jersey and wear it to the home opener.

          • BigE91

            Not taking it to “heart”, being logical here. I don’t believe there is. Any precedent for a standing captain of a club to hand over his jersey number to an incoming rookie. I can’t imagine a situation like that turning out well for any team even if Horcoff did it willingly. Yakupov has plenty of dues to pay before he gets “his” number.

          • GVBlackhawk

            No, there is no precedent for an existing captain to hand over his number to a rookie.

            Once again, I believe Horcoff will be #10 and the captain for 2012-13. I don’t even think that management would allow Horcoff to give up his number.

            Perhaps Nail will try #96 if he is drafted by the Oilers.

  • Truth

    Half of Yakupov’s goals on those highlights remind me of T Hall, the other half Eberle. Wonderful.

    Now if the Oil can acquire a half Chara – half Doughty somewhere they’d be set.

  • TwoSkidoos

    My lord this guy is amazing. You look at the highlights and he has just everything the oilers still need. I agree with pretty much everyone when they say draft Yakupov and trade for a dman.

    If I were the Oilers I would also go after Galchenyuk and do everything I could to aquire him as well. The two have incredible chemistry which I see translating to the NHL as well. If Galchenyuk needs to go back down. Keep Gagner and trade a MPS for some D help.

    From my vantage point, Yakupov changes everything and in a good way. The Oilers are finally in a position of power with the surplus of forwards but most of these forwards don’t even come close to Yakupov in terms of pure talent.

    Just my 2 cents