Yakupov's fitness testing performance gets solid reviews
TORONTO -- This was the moment Nail Yakupov, NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater, had been waiting for -- a chance to prove to every NHL scout and general manager that he deserves to be the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft on June 22 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
The 18-year-old right wing from the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League certainly did his part Friday during the fitness stage of the NHL Scouting Combine at the Toronto International Centre.
Yakupov successfully survived the 13 individual tests designed to evaluate the strength and fitness of the draft hopefuls, including the grueling bike tests -- the Wingate Cycle Ergometer and the VO2 Max test.
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"I think this is the best moment in my life and it started [at the Combine]," Yakupov told the media after surviving the tests. "It's a big day for me and this was the first test in my life. We had fun here. There was good exercises, good bikes. I got to show how hard I work and how to push. I feel great."
Edmonton Oilers head amateur scout, Stu MacGregor, whose team holds the No. 1 choice at the draft for the third straight year, said he was impressed with Yakupov's workout.
"He extended himself and put himself out there and gave everything he had," MacGregor told NHL.com. "I think that Nail wants to be No. 1 and he wants to prove he's No. 1, so he knows what's at stake and he's pushing himself to be the best he can be."
In addition to the bike tests, Yakupov was put through tests that included the standing long jump, vertical jump, curl-ups, grip strength, bench press, push-ups, and push/pull strength. He bench-pressed 150 pounds nine times, and totaled 29 pushups, four more than the average number last year.
He also lasted 12:25 on the VO2 Max test, which measures the maximum capacity of an individual's body to transport and use oxygen during incremental exercise. During his 30-second spin on the Wingate Cycle Ergometer, Yakupov maintained top speed to the very end, grunting his way through the final five seconds of the exercise.
"I think my favorite was the two bikes," Yakupov said with a laugh. "If you have to do it again, you do it again, and just push and get good motivation. I was good, I was practicing before and it was easy."
NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory thought Yakupov really pushed himself -- and as a result left a lasting impression.
"I saw a lot of compete in him which was good and I thought he pushed himself and I think that's what a lot of teams want to see," Gregory said. "I thought he did that and he was a strong kid. You could see that there's an athlete in there, as well as a good hockey player."
Despite playing just 42 regular-season games, Yakupov finished third on the team with 69 points, including 31 goals. He also had a plus-15 rating and 12 power-play goals.
He was asked if he would be disappointed if he wasn't selected with the first pick.
"Whether I'm No. 2 or No. 3, I'm not going to stop playing hockey," Yakupov said. "I keep working. I want to be drafted by an NHL team and help my team win … try win every game. So for me, I want to make the NHL and then we'll see."
Yakupov enjoyed having the opportunity to be around his peers and spend a week at the Combine with many other top draft-eligible prospects.
"Everyone talked with everyone," he said. "When some guy went into meetings, we would say, 'Good luck,' and we smile … there were no fights in the hotel. It's fun and this is your life, so you have to be excited for hockey and how you play."
Yakupov is hoping to become the first Russian player selected with the No. 1 pick since Alex Ovechkin in 2004.
"It would be my dream to be the first pick, but the NHL is another life and it's not draft right now, so I just concentrate on my game," Yakupov said. "I have a life outside of hockey, too. I have my family, my friends, and this year just happens to be my draft year. I will continue to play my game and have fun, and then we'll see what happens after the draft."
Scoring goals is something Yakupov enjoys -- he led all first-year players in the OHL in 2010-11 with 49 goals in 65 games, and his 101 points led all OHL rookies and shattered Steven Stamkos' team rookie record (92 points in 2006-07).
Gregory felt scouts and GMs probably learned a lot from Yakupov's fitness tests.
"There's a lot of measurables [at the Combine] and we get all that data out to the teams at the end of it," Gregory said. "But teams like to watch and see how players battle through when you reach your breaking point because those things translate to what you face on the ice, too."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale