Nail Railovich Yakupov (Russian: Наиль Раилович Якупов, Tatar: Cyrillic Наил Раил улы Якупов, Latin Nail Rail ulı Yakupov; born October 6, 1993) is a Russian professional ice hockey right winger currently playing for the Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League (NHL). He was selected first overall by the Oilers at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Yakupov grew up within the HC Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk junior program and moved to North America in 2010 to further his career. He joined the Sarnia Sting, a major junior team in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), where he played for two years before being selected in the NHL Entry Draft. Yakupov played for the Russian national junior team, winning medals in all three tournaments he participated in.
Yakupov was selected second overall by the Sarnia Sting in the 2010 Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Import Draft. Prior to this, he played in the Russian Minor Hockey League (MHL) for his hometown team, Reaktor Nizhnekamsk, but thought that trying to join the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) would be a quicker path to his dream to play in the National Hockey League (NHL).
Yakupov scored his first OHL goal against the Windsor Spitfires on September 24, 2010. After winning OHL Rookie of the Month for the month of October, Yakupov participated in the November 11 game of the Subway Super Series for Team Russia, at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ontario; Russia lost the game 4–0.
On February 3, 2011, Yakupov was named the 'Kal Tire OHL Rookie of the Month' for January, which he had previously won in October 2010. He later won the title for the month of February as well. At the end of the season, Yakupov was named winner of the Emms Family Award as OHL Rookie of the Year, becoming the first Sting player to receive the honour. He was also named to the first All-Rookie team for the season. On May 28, he was also awarded the title for CHL Rookie of the Year, as the top rookie in the Canadian junior circuit.
On February 28, 2011, at 3:07 in the first period of a game against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Yakupov scored his 43rd goal of the 2010–11 OHL season, giving him the new goal-scoring record for a rookie for the Sarnia Sting. On March 19, 2011, in Sarnia's last game of the 2010–11 season, he scored an assist on the first goal as well as the third goal for Sarnia to obtain his 100th point of the season; he also scored another assist with 80 seconds left in the game to finish the season with 101 points.
Early in the 2011–12 season, Yakupov took the scoring lead with 25 points in 10 games. A 12-point week landed him CHL Player of the Week honours for the first time on October 18, 2011.
As a result of the 2012–13 NHL lockout, the Oilers had assigned Yakupov to Sarnia for the 2012–13 season. Reports indicated, however, that Yakupov would instead return to Russia and play for HC Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Yakupov had played for the organisation previously as a member of its junior teams. His first game with the team was on September 22 against Traktor Chelyabinsk. After two games with Neftekhimik, Yakupov was suspended temporarily by the KHL, as the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) declared that he was not eligible to play in the league. According to IIHF rules, players moving between teams in different countries need to have a transfer card signed by the outgoing national ice hockey federation and the incoming federation. Hockey Canada, the governing body of ice hockey in Canada, had not signed Yakupov's card, making him ineligible to play in Russia. That required him to return to Canada and play with Sarnia for the remainder of the season. The reason they stated was that Yakupov had signed an entry-level contract with the Oilers, and according to an NHL–CHL agreement, players who sign such contracts have to either play in the NHL or for their CHL teams. Due to the NHL lockout, Yakupov could not play in the NHL and was therefore required to play in Sarnia. Within a few days, however, Hockey Canada decided that Yakupov was free to return to Russia, and signed his card; they "determined that Yakupov had no independent legal advice when, at the age of 17 years, he signed his contract with Sarnia."
The lockout ended in January 2013 and Yakupov returned to North America to play for the Oilers. A fan of Pavel Bure growing up, Yakupov wanted to have the number 10 on his jersey, the same one Bure wore for most of his career. However, since Shawn Horcoff wore that number at the time, Yakupov instead chose to use 64, as the two digits added up to 10. Yakupov played his first NHL game in the first Oilers game on January 20, 2013, against the Vancouver Canucks. He scored his first goal during the next game, the Oilers' home opener, against Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks on January 22.
On April 27, 2013, Yakupov recorded his first career hat trick in a 7–2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks, with all three goals coming in the third period. Yakupov finished his rookie season leading all rookies in goals with 17, and tied with Jonathan Huberdeau for points with 31. Yakupov also scored 11 goals in the month of April, second only to fellow countryman Alexander Ovechkin.
Yakupov was part of Team Russia in the 2011 World Junior U18 championship. He scored a hat trick in the bronze-medal game, including an empty-net goal with four seconds left, helping defeat Team Canada (with Sting teammate Brett Ritchie) 6–4.
Yakupov was part of the 2012 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, joining Russia. His team defeated Canada in the semi-finals, but lost 1–0 to Sweden in the gold medal game, acquiring a silver medal.
Nail Yakupov is an ethnic Volga Tatar and a Muslim. He is the first Tatar ever to be selected first overall at the NHL Entry Draft. With his draft selection, Yakupov surpassed Nazem Kadri as being the highest drafted Muslim player in NHL history. His father, Rail, worked with the HC Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk hockey team as a coach and executive. Yakupov first skated when he was four-years-old, but was more interested in soccer and the English Premier League club Chelsea than hockey. He is currently living in Canada with his father Rail, mother Gulnaz and sister Alina.
Regular season and playoffs
|OHL Rookie of the Month||November 4, 2010|
February 3, 2011
March 4, 2011
|OHL First All-Rookie Team||April 7, 2011|
|OHL Rookie of the Year||April 7, 2011|
|BMO Rookie of the Year (CHL)||May 28, 2011|
|CHL Player of the Week||October 18, 2011|
|OHL Player of the Month||October, 2011|
|NHL Rookie of the Month||April, 2013|