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Top NHL draft prospect Nail Yakupov knocked out by elbow to head

Nail Yakupov of the OHL's Sarnia StingGet set for another debate over how much responsibility falls on a puck carrier to avoid leaving himself vulnerable to contact to the head — and it's bound to be more intense since it involves top NHL draft prospect Nail Yakupov and the captain of his team's likely first-round playoff opponent.

Yakupov left the Sarnia Sting's 4-0 shutout win over the Owen Sound Attack after he was nailed with a forearm to the head by Owen Sound Attack captain Mike Halmo, who got a five-minute major and game misconduct. The video has not made its way through the series of tubes yet (I'll post it once it becomes available), but given what's been the pattern in the Ontario Hockey League, Halmo, Owen Sound's emotional bellwether and leading point-getter with 40 goals and 84 points, might be looking at at a 10-game ban. Do the math; Halmo's an overage and a lengthier suspension could last well into the first round of the playoffs.

(Update: Yakupov is out for the Sting's remaining regular season games. Which is only one week.)

Here's the hit (stick tap: Greg Wyshynski).

Cut into the middle

Yakupov was injured after he cut in off the right wing and moved into the slot area, going one-on-one against the lone defender back. His stick got tapped just enough by an Attack defenceman to cause him to loose control of the puck and that was when Halmo, who had peeled back from the opposite wing, caught him flush, leaving Yakupov both bleeding and woozy. The 18-year-old Russian was able to walk unassisted from the Sting bench to the dressing room, but he might have to rest as a precaution.

Halmo, who is known as a hard-as-nails player (a lot like Andrew Shaw, his former teammate who's been up with the Chicago Blackhawks as a first-year pro this season), might have been able to hold up. He was just doing his job, trying to line up an opponent for a big hit, but Yakupov's head dropped. It was a lot like the Tim Billingsley-Shane Prince collision, which incidentally happened exactly 365 days ago. Billingsley, who like Halmo was also an overage player, ended up getting 10 games, which kept him out until the second round of the post-season.

This will throw the issue of quote, unquote protecting star players into stark relief yet again, which factored into the Prince play and the Tom Kühnhackl-Ryan Murphy check last November. On top of it all, the Sting and Attack are slated to meet each other in the Western Conference playoffs, so if anything is handed out, it's going to be hard for the league to avoid accusations of favouritsm from Owen Sound supporters. London's Max Domi was not disciplined for a hit earlier in the year that put the Attack's Artur Gavrus out for a couple months, the difference being that Domi was not penalized on the original play.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: OHL Images; video: TV Cogeco Sarnia).

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