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Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Updated: December 26, 12:17 PM ET
Nail Yakupov is NEXT

By Craig Custance
ESPN The Magazine

Nail Yakupov
Yakupov scored 18 points in his first 18 games for KHL's Neftehimik Nizhnekamsk.

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GREAT HOCKEY PLAYERS can divine greatness in other players. Sometimes it's because of their anticipation of an opening on the ice. Other times it's the calm they exhibit in the clutch. In the case of Nail Yakupov, it was simply his ability to accelerate. Hall of Famer Igor Larionov needed only watch Yakupov's powerful push with each stride to realize the then-15-year-old was a once-in-a-generation talent. "I saw a kid doing everything," Larionov says. "Passing, scoring, being physical. It was incredible."

If you score goals, if the team wins, they love you. If you play like s--, nobody wants to talk to you. It's simple.

-- Nail Yakupov

The Oilers were equally intoxicated. After watching Yakupov's 101-point rookie season for the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting, Edmonton selected him No. 1 in the 2012 NHL draft. Since the lockout, Yakupov has been playing in the KHL, where his early success and famously exuberant goal celebrations have elevated him to star status -- making the Oilers even more eager to have him back. "He's so hungry to score," Oilers GM Steve Tambellini says. "He's like a Steve Nash, a point guard who's like, 'Give me the ball.'"

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