The name is Nail Yakupov. Not Nail Yaku-lot or Yaku-nough or Yaku-toomuch.
Despite a thrilling shootout victory over Switzerland on Wednesday, the Russian captain decided not to speak with the media after the win that moved he and his teammates into the semifinals.
Yakupov’s unwillingness to yack became a point of debate among fans and media.
Now, my company didn’t spend thousands of dollars to have me in Ufa, Russia, but if they did I wouldn’t be thrilled that the 18-year-old didn’t talk. For those who are there and wait to hear from players after a game, the no-show doesn’t sit well.
I’ve had a couple of different interview experiences with the Oilers’ No. 1 selection.
With the help of those running the Subway Super Series, I tried to nail down (pardon the pun) a sit down interview with Yakupov during the six games in Canada. No chance that was happening despite the best efforts of those with the CHL.
When he came through Vancouver our Sportsnet crew, along with others, awaited his arrival for 45 minutes after the game. When he did show up his mood wasn’t good and neither were his answers. This post-game scenario could have been alleviated with morning skate availability, but Yakupov only talked after games.
As disappointing as this experience was, the other encounter with Yakupov was much better. The day before the draft the NHL had an availability with all the top prospects. Yakupov was swarmed with media and he stood graciously for as long as 45 minutes answering questions, doing one-on-ones and being patient and professional despite dealing with many of the same questions. The next day, after he was selected first overall, Yakupov was elated and it showed in every interview from the time he walked off the stage to the time he walked out of the Consol Energy Center. No complaints from anyone.
In Pittsburgh there was an interpreter on hand in case Yakupov needed the help. He looked for help on the rare occasion he needed it, but otherwise he was fine on his own. This leads me into the ‘English as a second language’ card. He has it available to him but it’s not one that can be used confidently because he can speak and understand English. However, I will give the kid some latitude on that. It’s no easy task to emerge after a win or a loss and have to answer in a language you aren’t always comfortable using. I understand that can leave someone like Yakupov a little squirmy.
It won’t be long before he’ll be in Edmonton, whether it’s this winter or next fall and then he’ll be in demand on a daily basis — it comes with the territory in a Canadian market. Yakupov won’t be able to dodge the media even if he wants, and here’s why.
First off, while I’m biased, the Oilers do a great job making their players available. They are not perfect but ask media from around the league and they speak highly of how accessible the Oilers are. There have been players over the years that have been difficult to corral but it’s usually one player per year at most. You can’t force them to talk. Yet even those that aren’t always around are still available often enough for us to get our jobs done.
I also believe that when Yakupov gets to Edmonton and sees how Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins handle themselves when it comes to interview requests there won’t be a problem. When he sees the way those young men take on the challenge and scrutiny of speaking twice a day on game days and after nearly every practice there won’t be an issue.
If seeing the young Oilers isn’t enough then expect some of the older players to help Yakupov along the way (think Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth). They’ll make him understand the Oiler way and the NHL way.
NHL players are great to deal with (unless you’re Gary Bettman) and it’s a strength of the league, something Yakupov will soon come to realize.