EDMONTON - Wow, that was awesome. But don’t do it again.
Nail Yakupov put on a spectacular exhibition to complete his excellent Edmonton adventure, combining skill and showmanship to bring fans to their feet in Millennium Place in Sherwood Park.
They cheered him wildly but then, as they left the final day of Edmonton Oilers’ prospects camp, you could hear them saying “Gee, I sure hope he doesn’t do that stuff in the regular season.”
Yakupov, the Oilers third consecutive No. 1 pick in the draft was the show, the whole show and nothing but the show as people packed the place and stood four and five deep to get a look at the young Russian star on the holiday Monday.
And Yakupov, who after keeping his personality pretty much bottled up leading up to the draft and popping the cork the minute he arrived in Edmonton, couldn’t have been much more flamboyant than he was as the Oilers ended camp with a four-on-four game.
How often is a performance at prospects camp something to tell your grandchildren about? It was.
Yakupov scored three consecutive goals for openers.
He took a pass from goaltender Tyler Bunz at the far blueline, took a couple strides and blasted a 25-footer top corner behind Samu Perhonen to get it going. He then turned to the crowd and threw his arms open to welcome the expected applause.
His next two goals, which came on hard, perfect one-timers from set-ups on the doorstep, were followed by an archer pose and by holding his ear to the crowd to again to welcome the applause.
Daniil Zharkov, his Russian running mate, chosen 91st overall in the draft, the guy who told reporters he planned to be “better than Yakupov”, opened the session-ending shootout session with a sick, Linus Omark-worthy between-the-legs left-right backhand bit of razzle-dazzle.
He also played to the crowd, but with a much more understated tip-of-the-hat sort of salute.
Yakupov ended up winning it going last, electing to go with a quick snap shot. And he upstaged even himself by dropping to his butt and pretending to paddle a canoe.
“I had a lot of fun with the fans. It’s exciting. I’ve never seen that before. It was great,” he said of the scene the fans provided in Sherwood Park.
When asked if he’d carry his act over the the regular season, Yakupov’s answer illustrated the joy of hockey he clearly has in him but indicated, I think, that fans need not fear he’s planning on being the clown prince of hockey.
“If you score goals, you celebrate,” he said.
“But not crazy like that.”
It was crazy how the crowd enjoyed the show immensely and then debated it all the way to the parking lot.
Ralph Krueger isn’t expecting to have to take Yakupov aside in the fall.
“He’s entertaining. His spirit and love for the game comes through in that,” said the Oilers’ new head coach.
“How he will function in the mature, older group at training camp will be a lot different based on the conversations I had with him here.
“We’ve connected well the past few days and I know he was trying to make sure everyone was having fun.
“His speed and his intensity is prevalent at all times. You don’t play with that skill level if you’re not practising at a high level, and you can see that whether he’s in the gym at Rexall or here on the ice — he was always working at high intensity.
“He’s also very generous in the way he tried to make plays for other players. Not only did we see a goal-scorer this week, but we saw a playmaker.”
So today, Nail Railovich Yakupov flies home to Russia and his hometown of Nizhnekamsk, Tatarstan to discover to what extent he’s returning a celebrity.
Asked if he’s headed home exhausted from everything involved from the NHL combine, the Stanley Cup final top draft pick day, the pre-draft interview tour, draft week itself and the 10 days here, Yakupov had the perfect answer.
“You only get to do this once so I have to make the most of it,” he said.
You’d have to say he did. And then some.
The 18-year-old, whose first real Edmonton experience included getting Twitter-pated, used the social media outlet where he’s gone from zero to 24,513 followers to say his final farewell before he returns for the serious stuff whenever NHL hockey is played again:
“Great week with the boys !!! Thanks for everything guys !!! See u soon!!;-
“Take care in the summer!!))):-
“Nice caaaaamp :-
“Love u fans.”
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