PITTSBURGH – Nail Yakupov is ready to live with the pressure of being a No. 1 pick.
On the night he was chosen first in the NHL draft he had to share the spotlight when the host Pittsburgh Penguins traded popular forward Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes.
An hour after the Edmonton Oilers started the draft on Friday night by selecting the dynamic 18-year-old Russian forward with the top overall selection, the Penguins sent Staal to a reunion with his brother Eric in Carolina.
When NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the trade, Consol Energy Center shook with the kind of fervor normally reserved for a playoff game and dwarfed the modest applause that accompanied Yakupov to the stage to don an Oilers sweater.
No matter. Yakupov never really bought into the hype anyway. The sooner he can start playing and stop talking, the better.
I can’t wait, Yakupov said after being the first Russian taken with the No. 1 pick since Washington drafted Alex Ovechkin in 2004.
Yakupov, who spent the last two seasons with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League, didn’t have to wait long to hear his name called.
The Oilers, picking No. 1 for the third straight year, practically sprinted to the podium to grab the player they believe is the next piece of a core that includes center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and winger Taylor Hall, the top picks in the previous two drafts.
I think it’s going to be a great team, Yakupov said.
Yakupov was also a rarity in a top 10 dominated by defense. Other than Sarnia teammate Alex Galchenyuk – taken third overall by Montreal – the other eight picks were defensemen.
The Columbus Blue Jackets continued to shore up their blue line by taking Ryan Murray of the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips with the second pick. The 6-foot, 198-pound Murray had nine goals and 22 assists in 46 games last season.
The prideful Canadiens, coming off a miserable season, hope Galchenyuk can one day provide a needed spark to a lethargic offense. The talented center missed all but two games of this past season after he tore a knee ligament.
The New York Islanders chose defenseman Griffin Reinhart with the fourth pick, starting a run of seven straight defensemen taken.
Among them was Derrick Pouliot, taken eighth overall. That Pouliot was taken so high wasn’t remarkable, it was the team that got the pick to grab him that shook up the night.
The Hurricanes had the eighth pick but things changed quickly when Bettman walked onto the stage and announced a trade the hometown crowd might want to hear.
Moments later Pouliot pulled on a black Pittsburgh jersey.
Yeah, I was a little surprised, Pouliot said.