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Without hyperbole, best photo of the summer. (Photo credit: @Nail10_1993)

Before last season, Washington Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy played for seven different minor league teams in five years. His label as a journeyman ended in early March when Mike Green suffered a groin injury. Needing a right-handed shot, General Manager George McPhee called up Oleksy after being impressed by the 27-year-old’s work for the Hershey Bears at the AHL Showcase. He did not get sent back down.

Oleksy may have gotten his big break, but that doesn’t mean he slacked off over the summer. The versatile defenseman has been a mainstay at 2SP, a giant 15,000 square-foot sports performance and training center located in Madison Heights, Michigan.

Oleksy also made a new Russian friend while training: 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov.

In fact, judging by their interactions on social media, they are the bro-siest of bros now.

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Note the extras from GoldenEye at top right. (Photo credit: dynamo.ru)

Monday was supposed to mark Alex Ovechkin‘s first meeting with 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov. When Dynamo Moscow hosted Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, Yakupov instead had to endure an international fiasco last week and was held out of the line-up by Coach Vladimir Golubovich despite being reinstated over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the Russian machine had his best game yet in a blue and white jersey, notching his second goal of the KHL season and tallying an assist in Dynamo’s 5-1 mollywhopping of Neftekhimik. Ovi had 5 shots in a season-low 14:44 ice time.

Video ahoy!

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Will Nail Yakupov don a Russian jersey again after these comments? (Photo credit: Ted Rhodes, Calgary Herald)

On Saturday, the Russian media outlets Sports.ru, Kulichki Hockey, and SportLook posted some blockbuster quotes from the NHL’s top draft-prospect Nail Yakupov at the NHL Combine in Toronto. Yakupov downplayed his Russian image and refused to be compared to Nikolai Zherdev (a notorious NHL bust who was drafted 4th in 2003). There hasn’t been a lot of talk about this in North America yet, but I would still like to clarify some points now.

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Team Russia shocked the world by coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the gold medal game against Canada to win the IIHF U20 World Junior Championship one year ago. Tremendous coaching, discipline, and a lot of luck made a good team great. Several players also proved that they were the real deal, including Dmitry Orlov (currently playing in Washington), Vladimir Tarasenko (Blues prospect currently ranked fifth in KHL in goals), Maxim Kitsyn (KHL’s Metallurg Novokuznetsk), Artemy Panarin (Vityaz), and — the youngest of the bunch — Evgeny Kuznetsov. Role players from last year’s team, Nikita Dvurechenski (KHL’s Vityaz), Anton Burdasov (third-line center on the KHL’s Traktor Chelyabinsk), and Nikita Pivtsakin (KHL’s Avangard Omsk), have also graduated to become full-time KHL players.

Unfortunately, age eligibility rules have forced a drastic change to Russia, who is looking to repeat as champions for the first time since 2002 and 2003. The only returning player is Caps prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuzya, the captain wearing #25, is sure to be a major key to success for the Russians. He’s played in the tournament before, scored, and assisted on clutch goals.

Kuznetsov’s been very successful at the professional level this year: he leads the KHL in game-winning goals (5), scored the game-winner in the Karjala Cup, and plays on the first line of the Russian league’s best team, Traktor Chelyabinsk.

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Nail Yakupov: Why Caps Fans Should Root for the Avs to Tank

Nail Yakupov

When George McPhee traded Semyon Varlamov to Colorado in early July, not only did he gain the roster flexibility to sign Vezina-hopeful Tomas Vokoun to a discounted one-year pact, he also netted two valuable assets from the Avalanche: a first-round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and a second-round selection in either 2012 or 2013.

In a year’s time, Colorado could seriously regret this deal. Why? With two injury-prone goalies in Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and an offense that has few proven scorers, the Avalanche could fall into the lottery or possibly even finish dead-last in the West. That would give the Capitals a chance to pick in the top five for the first time in five years (they nabbed Karl Alzner fifth overall in 2007). It also presents McPhee and company with a shot at bringing a new Russian superstar to DC. His name: Nail Yakupov.

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