PITTSBURGH (AP) - Nail Yakupov is ready to live with the spotlight that comes with being a No. 1 pick.
An hour after the Edmonton Oilers started the draft on Friday night by selecting the dynamic 18-year-old Russian forward with the top overall selection, the Penguins shook up the somewhat ho-hum proceedings by sending Staal to a reunion with his brother Eric in Carolina.
When NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the trade, Consol Energy Center shook with the kind of fervor normally reserved for a playoff game and dwarfed the modest applause that accompanied Yakupov to the stage to don an Oilers sweater.
No matter. Yakupov never really bought into the hype anyway. The sooner he can start playing and stop talking, the better.
“I can’t wait,” Yakupov said after being the first Russian taken with the No. 1 pick since Washington drafted Alex Ovechkin in 2004.
The Russian Rocket scored 437 goals during his 12-year career, but he wasn’t taken until the sixth round of the 1989 draft.
Yakupov, who spent the last two seasons with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League, didn’t have to wait nearly as long to hear his name called. The Oilers, picking No. 1 for the third straight year, practically sprinted to the podium to grab the player they believe is the next piece of a core that includes center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and winger Taylor Hall, the top picks in the previous two drafts.
“I think it’s going to be a great team,” Yakupov said.
Yakupov, who scored 31 goals in 42 games last season, is eager for the next step following weeks of speculation.
“It’s not over, it’s just starting,” he said.
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 _ 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 _ taken third overall by Montreal _ the other eight picks were defensemen.