Russian winger Nail Yakupov was the first overall selection in the National Hockey League draft this past weekend by the Edmonton Oilers. The offensively-gifted winger is a Muslim who originally hails from the Tatarstan region of Russia. He chose to come to North America to further his NHL prospects, rather than take the greater paychecks of the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia as many young Russian phenoms do.
The 5â€™11â€, 185 lb Yakupov currently plays for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League. He has played for the Sting for the past two seasons after a year in Russian junior. He scored 170 points in 107 games in the OHL, and was named OHL Rookie of the Year for the 2010-1011 season. Yakupov has drawn comparisons to fellow Russian Pavel Bure for his speed, shot and offensive abilities. However he is also considered a player that plays bigger than his size and is unafraid to play a physical brand of hockey as well.
Yakupov now joins the Toronto Maple Leafsâ€™ Nazem Kadri as the two most prominent Muslims in professional hockey. And Yakupov joins Hakeem Olajuwon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only Muslims taken first overall in their respective drafts. Jabbar was taken first overall by the National Basketball Associationâ€™s Milwaukee Bucks in 1969, while Olajuwon was selected first overall by the Houston Rockets in the 1984 NBA draft. And they just might be joined by a fourth Muslim: incoming UCLA freshman basketball star Shabazz Muhammad, who is expected to stay in school no more than a year before taking his impressive talents to the NBA.
Meanwhile, Nail Yakupov may not quite be ready to join the Oilers right way. But even if he requires a little more minor league seasoning, itâ€™s still a big week for Yakupov, and a big week for the sporting ummah. Mubarak to Nail Yakupov!