x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Alexander Radulov spices things up for Nashville in the NHL

The Russian's return has given the Preadtors fresh impetus for the play-offs.

Alexander Radulov is back with the Nashville Predators in time for the NHL play-offs.
Alexander Radulov is back with the Nashville Predators in time for the NHL play-offs.

No one is putting Alexander Radulov in the same class as a certain Pittsburgh Penguins superstar. But the return of the Nashville Predators' prodigal goalscorer from Russia - with nine games remaining in the regular season - might have just as big an impact on the NHL play-offs as Sidney Crosby's comeback.

Crosby is without equal when it comes to his all-world talent and relentless determination, and Pittsburgh graduate to "best team" status when he is on the ice and on his game.

Radulov, on the other hand, is more one-dimensional as a speedster who can score, and he remains relatively unproven in the NHL after bolting for his homeland's Kontinental Hockey League four years ago at age 21.

He scored 44 goals and 95 points in 145 NHL games, then left Nashville - with one year remaining on his contract, prompting the Preds to suspend him - for big money and a starring role in the KHL.

But Radulov is back and he can still score, as evidenced in his NHL comeback when he notched Nashville's only goal in a 5-1 loss to Crosby's Penguins.

Radulov decided to return to the NHL when his KHL team were eliminated early in the play-offs, and he realised he could complete his contractual obligation to Nashville - and become a restricted free agent this summer - by rejoining the Preds for a handful of regular-season games and the play-offs.

The Predators could have refused to welcome him back, and held firm on the suspension. But they brought him back.

Most other teams, especially in the West, were not happy to see Nashville add another weapon just ahead of the most important time of the season. But the move was legal, within the Preds' rights, and Nashville have bigger reasons than even their play-off fortunes to consider.

Their top two defencemen, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, are coming up on unrestricted free agency - Suter this summer and Weber next - and the Preds needed to send a message to them that the team are serious about contending for the Stanley Cup.

At the trade deadline, the Preds added the veteran defender Hal Gill, and bolstered their forward corps with Paul Gaustad and Andrei Kostitsyn.

And now, Radulov. He will have to hit the ground running, and readapt to a smaller surface, faster game and more physical play than he's been used to in the KHL.

He is a game-breaking player, a pure scorer who can skate like the wind. His arrival makes the Preds bona fide cup contenders this season - and bodes well for their future, too.

sports@thenational.ae