NEWS

What makes a No. 1 pick?

Taylor Hall, Shawn Horcoff & Nail Yakupov chime in on the Oilers' No. 1 overall pick

Thursday, 12.04.2012 / 12:00 PM / News
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
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What makes a No. 1 pick?
Taylor Hall welcomes Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the Oilers following his No. 1 overall selection in 2011 (Getty Images).
**Stay tuned to edmontonoilers.com all week as we'll provide wall-to-wall, on-location reports and interviews with Nail Yakupov and other top prospects, General Manager Steve Tambellini & Head Amateur Scout Stu MacGregor from the 2012 NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto.**

Edmonton, AB
- "We'll know these players and the options inside-out by the time we get there (June)," said Oilers GM Steve Tambellini as he presented his state of the union address Wednesday at Rexall Place.

There's certainly no shortage of options, especially when the No. 1 overall pick is in the Oilers' grasp once more. In 2010, the club parlayed its bounty into Taylor Hall; a year later, it was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

And while their skill is undeniable, it's the person that the Oilers are most eager to learn more about. Once the grueling and longwinded interview process ended in past years, Tambellini said he knew, without a doubt, that Hall was worthy of the prestigious selection. The same happened with Nugent-Hopkins.

So beyond a player's talent, what goes into the pick?

"First-round picks have this mentality that they want to be the best, to help their team succeed in any way possible," Hall said as I spoke with him, one-on-one, prior to Tambellini's press conference. "You saw the way Nuge came in this year, he really helped our team and we wouldn't have improved like we did if he didn't come in and play like he did. Just the possibility of getting another player like that is very exciting."

The player who's best captured NHL Central Scouting's eye is 18-year-old Nail Yakupov. Just like Hall and Nugent-Hopkins before him, he holds the rankings' top spot and has for some time; in 42 regular-season games with the OHL's Sarnia Sting, Yakupov notched 31 goals and 69 points.

A season prior, his rookie campaign in North America, he played 23 more games and put up 101 points, rivaling Steven Stamkos' output when he patrolled the Sting's top unit several years ago.

Again, the skill is undeniable.

Hall's been through it all, meaning his understanding of the pick's obligations is as good as anyone's. No. 4 has handled it all admirably well, stepping up on the scoresheet, in the locker room and in the community as the Oilers' (or, one of them) face of the organization.

"There are always expectations, especially if you come to a Canadian market like Edmonton," he said. "Oilers fans expect a lot from their players -- that was something I had to adjust to and really get my head around, was the fact that there was going to be a lot of pressure, a lot of scrutiny.

"But if you handle it the right way and you conduct yourself properly, it doesn't affect you too much."

"It goes without saying the positive impact that they've had," added Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff, who's helped guide and mentor Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle since Day 1. "They're still young, so we're trying not to put too much pressure on them in terms of a leadership role. But their roles are starting to grow, they're playing bigger minutes now and with that comes bigger responsibility in the locker room.

"I think next year you'll probably start to see them take a bigger step, so we're eager to see even more of these guys come into the organization. Having the No. 1 pick won't hurt at all, it's another great opportunity."

Yakupov could be the guy. Off the ice, he's known to have somewhat of an outspoken personality, but he's still a kid -- a kid that loves to play the game, score goals and have a good time in his post-game interviews.

"I've seen how he plays and I've seen his interviews, which are pretty funny," Hall said, looking back at the 2012 World Junior Championship when Yakupov ran the show with reporters, grinning ear-to-ear as he dropped hilarious quips. "He certainly seems charismatic and likes to play the game, really loves to score goals.

"You really want to see that enthusiasm in a player, you want to see a player that loves the game as much as he does. I think that's very valuable to any team.

"From what I've seen, he reminds me a little of Pavel Bure," he added. "He's not a huge guy like Pavel, but he's got so much strength in his legs. And like him, he's got that charisma. You want to see a guy that goes to the net as hard as he can to score goals -- and to have the possibility of adding a player like that is very exciting.

"I'd love to play with him."

But there's still a decision to be made. Ranked No. 2, Everett Silvertips rearguard Ryan Murray could be an intriguing option. He was one of only two undrafted players on Team Canada's World Junior entry (Tanner Pearson was the other), and in 46 WHL games this season, he potted nine goals and 31 points.

Then there's Russian pivot Mikhail Grigorenko, who collected 40 goals and 85 points in 59 games with the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts.

One could argue that the Oilers' wealth on the wing is especially rich, giving higher priority to acquiring a centre or defenceman. Or, perhaps the club is looking elsewhere and could trade the pick for a lower one, along with the prototypical win-now asset.

"It's pretty impressive to see what Yakupov has done," Horcoff said. "Of course, any time you're in this position, you can do whatever you want. Whether it's keeping it and picking No. 1, trading it or whatever, we know for sure that in one way or another, we're going to be bringing in another elite-caliber player.

"If we were to pick him (Yakupov), he'd certainly be a welcomed addition to our team."

The feeling is mutual, as the 18-year-old has expressed great interest in suiting up in orange and blue, accomplishing his vision and playing with one of the NHL's all-time great organizations.

"I'm excited now. It's my dream," he said over the phone with edmontonoilers.com's Tom Gazzola "It would be amazing because Gretzky played there, Jari Kurri, and a lot of other players that helped them win a Stanley Cup. It would be pretty great to be in Edmonton."

Yakupov's season in Sarnia has come to an end, but he's currently back home in Russia training with KHL teams in the area. He says it's been good practice, and it's helped to keep his mind off what's out of his control.

His agent, ex-NHL great Igor Larionov, is there every step of the way.

"He said, 'Don't think about it. There's no pressure on you. Just be ready for the (Scouting) Combine and live your life'."

Decisions, decisions.

-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick

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