When Nail Yakupov stepped into a pair of skates at the age of three, no one could have predicted just how significant that moment really was.
In pursuance of a dream, teenaged Yakupov moved away from his family in his hometown of Nizhnekamsk, Russia and in with the Galchenyuk family in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.
In his rookie season with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League, Yakupov posted incredible numbers totaling 101 points. By his second season, his family moved to Canada to be with him. Although Yakupov was limited to 42 games in the 2011-12 season, he still tallied an impressive 69 points.
Now as the hockey world surrounds itself with the 2012 NHL Draft, great focus has been placed on Yakupov’s on-ice performance and skill.
But what about his off-ice persona?
Here is a different side of the projected first overall pick – a funny, charismatic individual with lots of love for his family and friends…and the Papa Burger.
Melissa Perri: What is the first thing you do when you go back to Russia after the season?
Nail Yakupov: I meet my Uncle Niaz, my uncle’s family, and my grandparents. Then I meet my friends and I stay with my friends every day for the whole summer in my hometown.
MP: Where is your favourite place to eat in Canada?
NY: Hana Sushi [in Sarnia]. A&W is my second favourite. I like the Papa Burger combo with Sprite and a little bit of ice with lime.
MP: What is the most played song on your iPod?
NY: I don’t have an iPod, but I have an iPhone! I think my best song is ‘When We Stand Together’ by Nickelback, but I can listen to everything – country, rock, or whatever. I also like Temple Run. You know that game? And Jetpack [Joyride] too.
MP: What is your favourite vacation spot?
NY: I go to Turkey and [United Arab] Emirates. This year I stayed in Russia because I have the NHL Combine and the Draft. My Dad, Rail, worked with the KHL team and every time after the season or in the winter they would go to Turkey or Emirates to take a rest. They’re great places. It’s pretty hot, but there are great hotels.
MP: What is your dream car?
NY: Lamborghini, but I can’t drive (laughs).
MP: What is your favourite sports team other than hockey?
NY: Chelsea in England. They won the league championship about a month ago. I was excited. It’s like the Stanley Cup for football.
MP: Who was your favourite NHL player growing up?
NY: When I was young, I watched Pavel Bure. That’s why I wear #10 right now [with the Sarnia Sting].
MP: What is your favourite hockey memory?
NY: World Juniors [in Canada]. I was so excited that in an interview I said 80,000 people not 18,000 (laughs). To me, it was like a Winter Classic game with all those people.
MP: How did you start playing hockey?
NY: My Dad was a coach and we got skates. I tried to walk at home with the skates but they were too big. They were probably size 9 and I was only 2 years old. When I was 3, we got skates and tried to go on the ice and then I started to play.
MP: How have your parents helped you with hockey and with life?
NY: They have helped me a lot. Always. In hockey and in life. They moved to Canada with me – my Dad, Rail, my Mom, Gulnaz, my sister, Alina, and the family dog, Hadi.
MP: Do you have any pre-game rituals?
NY: I tape my sticks on bench and I have blue or green Powerade. The biggest thing is to tape my sticks on the bench. The other things are just simple.
MP: What would you be doing if you weren’t playing hockey?
NY: For now, I play hockey and I decided I’m a hockey player. I don’t want to think about ‘if not.’ I try to be nice every day and love my parents and hockey. I’m not living for tomorrow. I live for today. Not for yesterday. Just for now. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
MP: You recently got a Twitter account. How do you like it?
NY: It’s great. I was in my uncle’s house and I had nothing to do at 5-o-clock. I laid down on the grass and thought about what I’m going to do. So I said, ‘let’s make a Twitter.’ The first day I wasn’t happy because I didn’t understand what to do. I [tweeted] a comedy star in Russia but he didn’t answer, so I said I didn’t need Twitter. But then I [tweeted] Glavy [Mark Glavin, Assistant GM, Sarnia Sting] and Gally [Alex Galchenyuk, teammate, Sarnia Sting] and said it’s the real Nail Yakupov. Then Twitter was going off. I had so many people. Before I went to bed, I checked and saw hundreds of people follow me. So for now I like twitter. It’s good. It’s funny.
While it is uncertain where his hockey career will take him next, this player is definitely something special. Nail Yakupov is a stand-up guy and his upbeat character is something any NHL team will be fortunate to have.
You can follow Nail Yakupov on Twitter at @Nail10_1993.
Tune in to the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft Friday night at 7pm on TSN.
Update: On June 22, 2012, Nail Yakupov was selected 1st overall by the Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League.