Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

OHL: Yakupov set to return soon and start affirming No. 1 rankingNail Yakupov has held his spot as the top NHL draft prospect by benefit of the doubt — can't hold it against someone who is injured — and perhaps because no one has risen up to take him off his perch. Now it appears almost everyone's No. 1 pick is soon going to back on the ice.

Or put another way: at least one Russian superstar is heading to Ottawa this weekend, eh, Alex Ovechkin? Yakupov, who injured his knee during Russia's loss to Sweden in the world junior gold medal game, could be medically cleared to rejoin the Sting as soon as this weekend, confirming earlier reports by Jim Parker. (The Sting's next game is in Ottawa, two days before the NHL's unwatchable, outdated glorified pickup game at Scotiabank Place.)

From Dave Paul at the Sarnia Observer:

Yakupov will skate with the team Tuesday and is expected to be cleared for contact by doctors, [coach-GM Jacques] Beaulieu said.

"That will make our top six a lot stronger than before," said Beaulieu.

The top-ranked prospect for the 2012 NHL draft has netted 21 goals and 53 points in 26 games this seasons. He suffered a knee injury while playing for Russia in the gold-medal game of the World Junior Hockey Championship.

... Sting fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when an MRI revealed no significant damage to Yakupov's knee. A Jan. 9 report indicated the right-winger could be out three to four weeks. But Beaulieu says Yakupov has been skating on his own and could be ready for an early return. (Sarnia Observer)

If all goes according to plan, Yakupov and fellow first-round hopeful, Belleville Bulls goalie Malcolm Subban, might cross paths on Saturday.

Yakupov has been productive during his limited time with the Sting, putting up 53 points in 26 OHL games. However, the expectations for him were sky-high and there is a creeping sensation that perhaps he has not dominated to the extent some anticipated, especially considering he turned 18 in October, not unlike fellow late-birthday blue-chippers Patrick Kane, Taylor Hall and John Tavares during their respective draft seasons a few years ago. Point being, at this point Yakupov being the top guy might be closer to 50/50 on merit and not having anyone else jump up to challenge him, pending Alex Galchenyuk returning to the Sting in another month or so.

His return also makes the Sting the wild card in the Western Conference playoff picture. They are on-paper strong, but injuries and a lack of continuity have conspired to keep them from being as on-ice strong.

If the Sting can get it together, they will be dangerous and they won't carry the same type of pressure that London and Plymouth will have.

"I hope we fly under the radar," Beaulieu said. "We just have to concentrate on playing the right way."

They have something else.

Yakupov is expected to play this weekend. Galchenyuk could be back March 1. (London Free Press)

In any event, it's good for the OHL if Yakupov can get back in action. He is the closest the league has to a headliner. He was initially replaced on the roster for the Feb. 1 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Kelowna, B.C., but the CHL says there is "nothing official" there.

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

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