The stereotype surrounding Russian hockey players is no secret. Whether it’s true or not, the reputation that they carry around the sport of hockey is well known to players, front office personnel, and fans.
They’re seen essentially as selfish players who could care less about the team and are more concerned with living their lavish lifestyle away from the ice. In some cases, this stereotype has actually been proven true (looking at you Alex Radulov). In most cases, though, it’s not.
It’s the reason that Alex Semin took so long to sign a deal. And now it’s the reason that many are questioning the Edmonton Oilers drafting of Nail Yakupov.
Right off the bat, there’s no doubting Yakupov’s talent. He has an elite skill set and has the chops to be an NHL superstar. However, there have been plenty of questions about his character, which no doubt stems from that Russian stereotype. Those concerns have grown so large, that some writers have actually suggested trading Yakupov before he takes the ice for a game with Edmonton.
Whether it’s his lively Twitter account, his comments regarding the play of Team Canada during the recent World Junior Championship, or his refusal to speak after a poor performance, Yakupov has found ways to draw criticism. As a Russian player, he’s a lightning rod for that type of criticism.
Perhaps it’s just a matter of finally seeing the kid play. The lockout postponed his NHL debut, assuming he makes the team out of camp, and there wasn’t much to analyze, since the masses couldn’t see him play. Maybe once he does actually hit the ice as a member of the Oilers, we might hear less about Yakupov away from the arena.
But that’s probably wishful thinking. Nail Yakupov is an immensely talented hockey player from Russia. The stereotype was already set before he even came into the league. The best he can do is go out and star on the ice, because that stigma isn’t likely going away anytime soon.