Nail Yakupov will apparently take his talents to Tatarstan if there is a NHL lockout come Sept. 15.
As the NHL's first overall pick in June, the pending Sarnia Sting graduate is in a grey area — he is past returning to the Ontario Hockey League for his 19-year-old season, but amid the uncertainty of what a lockout means for signed draft picks who still have junior eligibility could strike out decamping to the American Hockey League. So on Tuesday morning, not long after Dan Tencer reported that the Oilers' Oklahoma City farm team expects that 19-year-old former No. 1 pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could play for them if there's a lockout "but does not expect the same for Yakupov," Szymon Szemberg, the communications Director for the International Ice Hockey Federation, tweeted that Yakupov will play for IIHF, a report came out that Yakupov will play for HC Neftekhimik, the KHL club in his hometown of Nizhnekamsk, Russia,
That jibes with what Larionov told Jim Matheson on Monday:
Larionov says Yakupov will either play in the Kontinental Hockey League for his hometown Russian team Niznekamsk, or possibly in Sweden or Finland if there's an NHL lockout, for however long it takes. He won't be returning to junior in Sarnia, even though he has junior eligibility left.
But playing in the KHL is a more convenient pit stop for Yakupov than with North Americans, and 25 of the team's league games will be played in the first two months, which would be a boon for KHL teams who could get Malkin and other Russians back. (Edmonton Journal)
Yakupov is a unique case because of talent and draft status, but this could (stress, could) be an indicator that there are less than great expectations the CHL will lose signed draft picks to the American Hockey League if there is a lockout. The NHL/CHL agreement expired when the big league's collective bargaining agreement ran out, but it was honoured during the 2004-05 lockout.
All of the CHL players taken in the first round of the 2004 NHL draft returned to junior while the big league went dark. First-rounders from '03 who had returned to junior in '03-04, including some present-day prominent NHLers such as Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf and Brent Seabrook, rode the buses in junior for another winter. The ones who had already gone pro, such as Erik Staal and Nathan Horton, went to the AHL.
It's doubtful anyone will read anything more into this Yakupov news beyond a player and his agent making contingency plans. He was just in Edmonton house-hunting, with agent Igor Larionov passing on word that Yakupov plans to wear No. 64 since his preferred No. 10 is taken. For Sarnia, meantime, they probably weren't counting on seeing him again. Montreal Canadiens No. 3 overall pick Alex Galchenyuk is a different case, since he's only 18 and is much more in need of more time in junior.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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