PITTSBURGH (AP) — Nail Yakupov insists his goal is to play in the NHL. The talented 18-year-old forward also understands why some NHL general managers remain skeptical.
The rise of the Kontinental Hockey League back in Yakupov’s native Russia gives the NHL some serious competition for the top Eastern European players. The last Russian to go No. 1 overall in the NHL Draft was Alexander Ovechkin in 2004 and several high-profile NHL players have skipped out on NHL commitments to play in the KHL.
Yakupov is one of three players with Russian ties that could go in the top five when the draft begins on Friday. Center Alex Galchenyuk and winger Mikhail Girgorenko also are expected to be taken early.
The Edmonton Oilers have the top overall pick for the third straight year.