Year of questions about Russians before NHL draft

 

The status of the KHL is on everyone's tongue

 
 
 
 
Top NHL draft prospect Nail Yakupov poses on an overlook in Pittsburgh.
 
 

Top NHL draft prospect Nail Yakupov poses on an overlook in Pittsburgh.

Photograph by: Joe Sargent, NHLI via Getty Images

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Take note, David Booth. The consensus first-overall pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft can do more than play hockey.

Nail Yakupov can beat up a bear. At least he says he can, especially with his hockey stick. He didn't have one Thursday. That's probably a good thing. Given some of the looks-to-kill he was giving inquisitors on media day, he just may have been tempted to swing it.

With three players who have Russian backgrounds possibly going in the top five in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft, this should be the year of the Russian. Instead, it's the year of the questions about Russians.

So you can appreciate if Yakupov, seemingly destined to go first over-all, is a little tired of answering the same question about whether he'll at some point abandon the team that drafts him to bask in the glow of money that the KHL promises.

Then again, that furrowed brow, and grumbling could have been because of the nauseating heat and the fact he was forced to answer said questions on top of a boat, in the middle of a river, with no chance at any shade.

Still, it's a tantalizing question for these Russians. The NHL under-pays it's young players like few other professional leagues. The top picks don't get the millions young players in the NBA, the NFL and even the MLB are afforded before they even play a pro game. It can take years to get the big payday in the NHL. And the KHL, can do something the NHL cannot. It can pay huge bundles of cash to draft picks and do it right away.

So, it's understandable NHL teams have been trying to dig into these players heads, because no one wants to be stuck with the next Alex Radu-lov.

That's why even Alex Galchenyuk was grilled by teams with "K questions" leading up to the draft despite the fact he was born in Milwaukee.

"The KHL question got so annoying," Galchenyuk said. "Every time I'd make sure to tell them 100 per cent that the team knows I'm not going there. Because I'm not. There's no chance I'm going there. I don't want to play there. I want to play in the NHL since I was a little kid.

"Everyone keeps asking me if I'm going to the KHL. 'They have more money, they have more this, they have more that.'

"The answer is no." Did he get the sense that teams thought he was lying?

"A little bit, maybe. They think I'm fooling them or something," he said.

"A lot of people ask me, 'Why you choose USA? Your whole family is Russian.' Like I said before, I just want to play for the USA.

"I was born in the States. I love the country."

Galchenyuk could have been the first overall pick but was hurt in September and missed all but two games this season. And not only did he get the K-questions and the injury questions, he was also being used to scout Yakupov, who has been his teammate with the Sarnia Sting for the past two years.

"At almost every meeting they want me to tell them about Yakie," Galchenyuk said. "Tell me about his bad parts. It's the same thing for him. They ask him if there are any weaknesses in my game. So, it's scouts trying to get tricky with us."

jbotchford@theprovince.com

 
 
 
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Top NHL draft prospect Nail Yakupov poses on an overlook in Pittsburgh.
 

Top NHL draft prospect Nail Yakupov poses on an overlook in Pittsburgh.

Photograph by: Joe Sargent, NHLI via Getty Images

 
Top NHL draft prospect Nail Yakupov poses on an overlook in Pittsburgh.
Top NHL prospect Nail Yakupov speaks to the media during media availability on the Gateway Clipper Express in Pittsburgh. Yakupov and some of his fellow Russian imports have been fielding some difficult questions ahead of the draft.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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7/28/2014 10:41:09 PM
 
 

 
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