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Born in the Republic of Tatarstan in Russia, Yakupov has consistently shot down speculation he is going to return to his homeland and play in the Kontinental Hockey League. He stressed repeatedly in the days leading up to the draft that the NHL is “the best league in the world.”

While hardly the biggest player on the ice, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Yakupov has dazzling speed and nimble footwork. He plays with a relentlessness that made him the top player on most draft boards. Yakupov broke Sarnia’s rookie scoring record _ previously held by Steven Stamkos _ in the 2010-11 season when he finished with 49 goals and 101 points.

Yakupov was also a rarity in a top 10 dominated by defense. Other than Sarnia teammate Alex Galchenyuk, who was taken third overall by Montreal, the other eight picks were defensemen.

The Columbus Blue Jackets continued to shore up their blue line by taking Ryan Murray of the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips with the second pick. The 6-foot, 198-pound Murray had nine goals and 22 assists in 46 games last season.

The 18-year-old became the youngest player since Paul Kariya in 1993 to play for Team Canada in the world championships this spring, and his ability to make an impact on both ends of the ice won over the rebuilding Blue Jackets.

“We are very happy to have Ryan Murray join our organization,” general manager Scott Howson said. “He solidifies what we believe is a position of strength. His character and two-way play will be very valuable to our hockey club.”

The prideful Canadiens, coming off a miserable season, hope Galchenyuk can one day provide a needed spark to a lethargic offense. The talented center missed all but two games of this past season after he tore a knee ligament.

Galchenyuk, born in the U.S. to Russian parents, is considered a gifted passer. He totaled 31 goals and 52 assists during the 2010-11 season. He already speaks two languages, and joked that he had better start picking up French.

“I think I have classes starting next week,” he said with a laugh.

With the top high-flying forwards off the board, teams then went heavy on defense in a draft considered short on offensive star power.

The New York Islanders chose defenseman Griffin Reinhart with the fourth pick, starting a run of seven straight defensemen taken.

Among them was Derrick Pouliot, taken eighth overall. That Pouliot was taken so high wasn’t remarkable, it was the team that got the pick to grab him that shook up the night.

The Hurricanes had the eighth selection but things changed quickly when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman walked onto the stage and announced a trade the hometown crowd “might want to hear.”

Moments later, Pouliot pulled on a black Pittsburgh jersey.

“Yeah, I was a little surprised,” Pouliot said.

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