Tempering expectations for Nail Yakupov
SARNIA, Ontario -- For most of Monday evening's Super Series game against the OHL's best, Nail Yakupov had very little space on the ice. No moment better demonstrated that than when Washington Capitals prospect Tom Wilson lined up Yakupov in open ice, sending him onto his rear and breaking his helmet.
"That was nothing tough. It's OK," Yakupov said after the OHL's 2-1 win. "It's hockey out there."
It was the most visible display of Wilson's efforts to contain the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft, but the plan also included an evening's worth of trash-talk. Wilson was as relentless running his mouth as his teammates were stingy in giving Yakupov room to operate.
"On the ice, I don't know what [Wilson's] going to do. Some words stupid," Yakupov said. "Who cares? Just play hockey."
In the end, Yakupov's conclusion, in a second language he's learned remarkably well, was a simple but a great summation of the night.
"Always tough [to] play against Canadian guys," he said.
It's a taste of what's ahead in the NHL for the skilled but still developing future star. He ended up scoring a late goal in this game, a great example of the notion that Yakupov doesn't need much daylight to eventually make an impact on the game. But the goal was too late, with Canada's second goal the back-breaker -- a goal Yakupov pinned on himself.
"That was my goal," he said. "I didn't see a player."
In just one game, we saw a little bit of everything from Yakupov. We saw that he can be contained, even neutralized, with the right mix of defensive attention and physical play. We saw room for improvement for his play without the puck. And we saw, in light of it all, a player who needed very little time and space to make an impact.
It all raises the question: What's a reasonable expectation for a player whose NHL debut is so widely anticipated by fans in Edmonton?
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