EDMONTON – Edmonton Oilers first-round pick Nail Yakupov welcomed the chance to get back to competitive hockey at the recent Canada-Russia Hockey Challenge.
He hopes he won’t have to wait too long to do it again.
Yakupov arrived in Edmonton to prepare for training camp ahead of a season in jeopardy of a possible lockout as NHL labour talks continue in Toronto.
Yakupov, who has signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Oilers, admits he’s given some thought to what he might do if the season is delayed by a lockout. But he doesn’t want to talk about his Plan B.
“I think every player has a Plan B,” he told reporters. “I just want to play. I don’t want a lockout.
“For now, I’m just thinking about the Edmonton Oilers and the NHL and that’s it.”
Yakupov relished the opportunity to play for his country in the Canada-Russia Challenge, which was a four-game series between junior players from the two hockey powerhouses.
The series had another level of emotion. The first two games were played in Yaroslavl, Russia, as a tribute to Kontinental Hockey League team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. The club was involved in a horrific plane crash last September that killed 44 players and coaches.
“The first game in the (series) we played against Canada and it was something crazy,” said Yakupov, who scored in the series opener that Canada won 3-2. “It was fun—we played for the fans.”
The 19-year-old forward said he’s focusing on working out with his new teammates and hasn’t given much thought to how he’ll fit in a squad that already boasts young talents such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.
“We’ll see what the lines are going to be and what the coach says,” he said. “I just want to play and play well and help the team win and have fun.”
Yakupov is also busy settling into his new home and waiting for the rest of his family to join him.
“Mom, dad, sister, dog. And me,” he said.