EDMONTON - There was never any doubt the Edmonton Oilers would come to terms with Nail Yakupov on an entry-level contract. Or for that matter, what the deal would be.
The only issue still to be settled was when the two sides would sit down to sign the paperwork.
But with all Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini had on his plate this summer, it’s understandable it would take a little longer to sign the team’s most recent first-overall pick, than it did to lock up the previous two.
On Monday, the team announced the final piece of the puzzle was in place with Yakupov coming to terms with a three-year, entry-level contract.
“I’m really excited about signing my first NHL contract,” said Yakupov, when reached back at his home in Russia. “I can’t wait for the season to start. I’m excited for the opportunity to play in the NHL and with the Edmonton Oilers. I just want to help my team as much as I can.”
Yakupov’s contract falls in line with the maximum allowable for first-year players in the NHL’s current collective bargaining agreement.
His base salary will be the rookie maximum of $925,000 per season, but with bonuses Yakupov will be a $3.775-million cap hit, identical to the deals signed by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.
“I think it’s a great deal,” Yakupov said. “I don’t think it adds any pressure for me or anything like that, it’s just a matter of signing a contract and now you just start to work. It makes you want to work harder and be prepared to play in the NHL. It’s a high-level league and it’s a top league, and right now, I want to go to the NHL and play my entire career in the NHL.”
Yakupov, 18, was selected by the Oilers first-overall at the NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh a month ago.
The native of Nizhnekamsk, Russia, had 31 goals and 69 points in 42 games with the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League last season.
Yakupov had 49 goals and 101 points in 65 games the year before in Sarnia as a 16-year old.
“There really isn’t much negotiation with the first overall pick and that’s the way it should be,” said Tambellini. “Hopefully he can achieve every bonus that he can make.”
Outside of the draft, fans got a first look at Yakupov during the Oilers rookie camp a couple of weeks ago where his outgoing personality and his eagerness to entertain were on display.
The Oilers feel Yakupov’s enthusiasm for the game will be a good fit in a dressing room loaded with young and talented players.
“There’s a lot of different personalities in every room,” Tambellini said. “Obviously Nail is expressive, he’s emotional, he’s excited. You know when he’s feeling great and you’ll probably know when he’s not. He shows his emotions pretty clearly when you watch him. But the one thing I do like is that he’s passionate about what he does best. That will be exciting for Edmonton fans to see.”
Yakupov is currently at home, but will return to North America in mid-August to take part in the Russia-Canada challenge in Halifax.
From there, he’ll fly to Edmonton to begin preparations for his first NHL training camp. It’s expected his mother and sister will move to Edmonton with him.
“I’m excited to get together with the guys,” Yakupov said. “The Oilers have a good, young team, and I want to meet everyone. I think our team will be pretty good.
“I think for me, I want to come and work as hard as I can, be excited about hockey and go out and play. When you play hockey for a living, you have to be excited about that every day.”
With the Oilers’ signing of Yakupov and their recent contract agreement with Sam Gagner, the club’s roster appears to be in place for the upcoming season. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that they’re completely finished assembling their team.
“I’d be comfortable if we had to start at this point,” said Tambellini. “I don’t want to say that we’re turning off the ‘Open for Business’ sign, because there are a few significant things left to happen in the NHL as far as player movement is concerned. And you never know what happens once those deals get completed as far as the shuffling of players after that. We’re just trying to stay as close to the action as possible, trying to stay updated.”