- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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Nail Yakupov, the first overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft, has been suspended from playing in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League while officials wage an international turf war over his status.
The Edmonton Oilers' 18-year-old top prospect will sit out while the International Ice Hockey Federation investigates his situation. Yakupov appeared in two games for the KHL's Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk without first securing an approved international transfer card, according to an IIHF spokesperson.
"Playing without an approved ITC following an international transfer request is a breach of IIHF transfer regulations," IIHF spokesperson Szymon Szemberg said in a statement.
An ITC requires a signature from the player's outgoing federation before he is allowed to play overseas anywhere under the IIHF umbrella, and Yakupov did not obtain the green light from Hockey Canada.
A source confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com that Yakupov's transfer card was not signed by Hockey Canada because Yakupov has a contract with the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting through 2012-13 and the organization feels he should be compelled to play for Sarnia rather than in Europe.
Yakupov, who had 170 points (80 goals, 90 assists) for the Sting the past two seasons, was assigned to Sarnia by Edmonton earlier this month.
"Where it's at, I'm not entirely sure," Canadian Hockey League commissioner David Branch told ESPNNewYork.com. "I don't have anything official from IIHF or Hockey Canada."
Branch said he did speak with Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson on Tuesday night, and that Nicholson, who recently was elected as vice president of the IIHF, informed him that Yakupov's status would be addressed at Wednesday's IIHF's council meeting in Tokyo.
Nicholson released a statement Wednesday night.
"Hockey Canada cannot sign the international transfer card for Yakupov until the Sarnia Sting releases this player from his contract," he said. "If Sarnia advises Hockey Canada that it has released the player, Hockey Canada will sign his transfer card."
Yakupov's case is in "appeal procedures" and, according to the IIHF, an ITC will not be "approved or denied" until his case is decided.
"In accordance with IIHF regulations, the IIHF has sanctioned the Russian Ice Hockey Federation with a fine of (5,000 Swiss francs, about $5,320 US) and informed the RHF to withdraw the player from further competition in order not to risk stronger sanctions, including sanctions (suspension) of the player, pending the final decision of the IIHF's appeal procedure," the statement continued.
A call to his agent, Igor Larionov, was not immediately returned.