Nail Yakupov is the top talent in this year's NHL Draft for every reason except his size, but his one major flaw will not be a detriment to his professional career.
Edmonton, barring a twist, will make Yakupov the No. 1 overall pick in Friday night's sweepstakes. He's legitimately talented, and he will justify his top overall status.
The main knock on Yakupov is his size. He stands 5'11'' and 190 pounds, but he doesn't let it hurt his game on the ice. He moves well, plays tough and avoids "mucking" it up with more overpowering players.
Let's take a look at which parts of Yakupov's game neutralize all size concerns.
Balance and Speed
Yakupov doesn't just play fast. He plays fast, and he controls the puck. You can't do both without having the necessary balance
This 18-year-old Russian understands his physical limitations, and he makes up for them. He's an excellent skater, and he uses his low center of gravity to stay on the puck. This allows him to sweep the offensive zone without losing his handle or dump the puck deep and retrieve it.
Balance gives Yakupov's game some form of versatility. He is largely a finesse player, but it gives him a physical dimension that sets him apart at times.
This will be very important as he faces even stronger NHL players.
Sports Illustrated's mock draft contains a scout's quote in their Yakupov blurb:
He's an entertainer. He plays at top speed and executes plays that others couldn't imagine. Being the fastest, most creative player is one thing, but it's Yakupov's desire that makes him special.
Special desire translates to "I want to get better." That bodes well for his NHL future.
Yakupov isn't going to sprout up overnight. He will get stronger as he gets older and matures (a la Sidney Crosby), but he isn't ever going to be physically menacing.
Instead, he will get by with his heart.
Yakupov possesses a captain's spirit and intensity. He wants to win games, and he makes everyone around him better. That type of presence on the ice trumps many other physical attributes.
He played on Russia's silver medal team in the 2012 World Junior Championships. He gained valuable experience there, as well as in the super-competitive OHL. He understands what it takes to play against top competition, and he almost always performs well.
Not only did he score 80 goals in two years as part of the OHL's Sarnia squad, but he also possesses every intangible needed to succeed at the next level.
With a different attitude Yakupov's size could damage his development, but this budding star has everything you need to be a future NHL All-Star.
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