By Daily Courier Staff
Kelowna hockey fans won’t have the opportunity to watch potential No. 1 overall NHL draft pick Nail Yakupov this season — not in person anyway.
The flashy Russian forward has been ruled out for the CHL Top Prospects Game at Prospera Place — Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 — due a knee injury sustained in the gold-medal game of the World Junior Championship in Calgary earlier this month.
That speculation was confirmed on Wednesday, prior to the Kelowna Rockets hosting another potential No. 1 pick in Everett Silvertips defenceman Ryan Murray, who will suit up for the annual showcase.
Yakupov, who plays for the OHL’s Sarnia Sting and has tallied 21 goals and 53 points in 26 games this season, became the fourth injured player requiring a replacement for the Top Prospects Game.
“I don’t think it’s really going to change things. You’ve still got the 30-some top draft-eligible players in Canada,” said Rockets vice-president of business development Gavin Hamilton. “(Yakupov) made a bit of an impact at the world juniors, but there’s still going to be an awful lot of exciting players for our fans to watch.”
Also missing from action will be three additional OHL players in Peterborough Petes defenceman Slater Koekkoek, Kitchener Rangers forward Matia Marcantuoni and Owen Sound Attack centre Jarrod Maidens.
In their absence, four WHL players have answered the call in Vancouver Giants defenceman Brett Kulak, plus forwards Tim Bozon (Kamloops Blazers), Mike Winther (Prince Albert Raiders) and Branden Troock (Seattle Thunderbirds).
Even without Yakupov, the event will be stacked with future stars, now highlighted by Mikhail Grigorenko of the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts, a fellow Russian who is challenging for top draft billing after totaling 25 goals and 58 points through 36 games. Grigorenko, though, also hasn’t played since the world juniors, out with an ankle injury.
“We had a conference call today and nothing new on him,” Hamilton said. “It’s still a couple weeks away and those types of players certainly want to play in the game, so I’d expect we’ll see him here.”
Also competing with the goal of boosting their draft stock will be Rockets captain/forward Colton Sissons and defenceman Damon Severson, providing the latter’s hand injury heals in time. Kelowna head coach Ryan Huska will act as an associate coach, alongside Mark Recchi with Team Cherry.
As for tickets, Hamilton announced a new offer of $40 for the Feb. 1 game only, while two-day packages remain $52 and include the skills competition and 3-on-3 challenge on Jan. 31. Tickets can be purchased at www.selectyourtickets.com/prospects.php or by calling 250-762-5050.
“(Sales) are slower than I thought they would be,” Hamilton said. “We realize that two nights in the mid-week is a little tough, so that’s why we talked to (CHL officials) and came out with this new price for the game only. For $40, it’s probably going to be the best hockey you may ever see on this ice.”