The future of NHL No. 1 draft pick Nail Yakupov’s future has been thrown into doubt after the league declared a lockout, with suggestions he may ignore the Edmonton Oilers’ decision to transfer him to a Canadian major junior team.
Hours before the lockout took effect Saturday, Edmonton said it had assigned Yakupov to the Sarnia Sting, where he racked up 170 points in 107 games before being drafted first by the Oilers in June.
“Going to Russia,” Yakupov said on Twitter on Saturday, without specifying whether he meant a visit or contract plans.
Before moving to Sarnia in 2010, Yakupov played a season for Reaktor, part of KHL team Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk’s organization, and the KHL side has already staked a claim to its former player.
"Yakupov will be playing in Nizhnekamsk in case of a lockout," general director Rafik Yakubov told R-Sport last month.
Yakupov has also been linked to a move to other European leagues and reportedly ruled out going back to Sarnia last month.
“No,” he said, when asked about a possible return to Sarnia, in comments reported by the National Post, adding: “Just for a visit, you know? I have a lot of friends there.”
The KHL has put rules in place to prevent lesser-known NHL players moving to the Russia-based league.
Yakupov does not meet the NHL ice time or previous KHL experience requirements, but would qualify by virtue of playing for Russia at the world junior championships in January, when his team lost 1-0 to Sweden in the final.
Yakupov, 18, was one of three Russians to appear in the first round of the draft, the strongest showing by the country since 2001, when goaltender Ilya Kovalchuk became No. 1 overall pick for the Atlanta Thrashers, forward Alexander Svitov was third, selected by Tampa Bay, and winger Stanislav Chistov was fifth, going to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.