Nail Yakupov’s saga continues to grow weirder by the day. Despite having issues with getting the transfer card from the IIHF, Yakupov finally made his KHL debut last Saturday in the game against Traktor Chelyabinsk.
Neftekhimik, Nail’s new/old team, lost 3-1. However, first overall pick of the 2012 draft class showed local crowd why there was so much fuss about him across the Atlantic. First he dangled his way around the entire opposition (in case something goes wrong, watch crazy Nail moves starting at 1:10).
And then he would have put the puck in if it wasn’t for Traktor’s goalie Michael Garnett (watch the play at 4:45).
‘I’m happy with the way Yakupov played,’ said Neftekhimik’s head-coach, Vladimir Golubovich, at the post-game press-conference. ‘He joined our team with zero playing experience this season, but was able to create 2 amazing scoring opportunities, had a chance to score and he didn’t stand out in a bad way tactics-wise. Why did put him on another line in the 3rd? Unfortunately, [Pavel] Vorobiev and [Alex] Komaristy can’t skate fast, so we put Nail on our top line to make it more mobile.’
Yakupov played another game after this. This time he faced Metallurg Magnitogorsk, who recently gave themselves a boost having signed Evgeny Malkin, Sergei Gonchar and Nikolai Kulemin. Neftekhimik gave the powerhouse a run for its money but lost nevertheless 7-2. Right after this KHL temporarily banned Yakupov from playing.
‘The IIHF initiated this,’ said KHL representative Evgeny Kurbatov to Sportbox.Ru. ‘IIHF is currently looking into this to see if Yakupov is eligible to play in the KHL. They have questions about his status in the NHL, AHL and KHL. Meanwhile, we can’t let Yakupov play in the KHL. Hopefully, the issue is going to be resolved in the next few days.’
‘KHL told us that IIHF banned Yakupov from playing for Nizhnekamsk. The confusion comes from Nail’s contract with the Oilers. IIHF states it’s a 2-way deal, while we believe it’s a 1-way deal and this is why Nail came back to his hometown for the duration of the lockout,’ Rafik Yakubov, Neftekhimik GM, told Sport-Express. ‘Yakupov’s agent is already dealing with this situation. Meanwhile, Nail, who played just 2 games for our club, can’t do anything but wait. He can’t really do anything.’
There might be more to this story than simple bureaucracy layovers, though.
‘The story is very unique, actually,’ said Rail Yakupov, Nail’s father to Sport-Express. ‘First overall pick can’t play in the AHL due to his age. Technically, my son signed a 2-way deal with the Oilers and it is active starting next NHL season. Currently, this is pretty much a 1-way deal. Nail can play either for the Oilers or in the NHL.’
‘Oilers were fine with my son leaving to the KHL,’ continues Yakupov senior. ‘Then out of the blue appeared Sarnia – the team he used to play for. What do they have to do with this? What do they want? I don’t get it. I don’t want to blame anybody, but it seems like somebody’s trying to make money of it. We have our suspicions of who it may be – it’s our Russian-speaking acquaintances from North America. We’re dealing with this. However, I can’t really tell when this issue is going to be solved.’
It is very unusual for an 18-year-old player to be involved in a situation like this. Come to think of it, the last Russian who had similar problems with the IIHF was Isles prospect Kirill Kabanov. However, Neftekhimik GM believes it’s not going to become a basis for Yakupov to build an attitude problem on.
‘So far Nail is not a star. He’s just a starlet,’ Yakubov told Sovetsky Sport. ‘He’s got a good size, puck control and magnificent wrist shot, though. He was way ahead of everybody in our hockey school. Before he left for Canada, he was offered to move to Kazan, Yaroslavl and Moscow. We are very proud of Nail. It’s still a question how good he’s going to be a pro level. One thing I know for a fact – he’s not going to get any star attitude issues. He’s a very shy guy with terrific work-ethic. He loves to work and he doesn’t think too much of himself.’
It is a question how well Nail’s going to adapt to a pro level. Too bad we have to wait for IIHF’s nod to find out the answer.
Yakupov summed it up beautifully in this tweet.
‘Just give the guy a chance to play and enjoy hockey. Pleeeeeease.’