PITTSBURGH -- Alexander Radulov couldn't wait any longer.
Despite a hectic week in which he finished the season in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, finalized an agreement to return to Nashville, was re-introduced at a Predators press conference and hastily took part in two practices, Radulov will be in the lineup against Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
An already intriguing game between the Predators and the Penguins became even more of a marquee matchup when coach Barry Trotz revealed Radulov would play. After a press conference Wednesday in Nashville, the team said it wouldn't decide Radulov's status until after the morning skate Thursday.
Now, he's in, jet lag and all.
"He's had a lot of travel. He lives eight or nine time zones away. I'm not going to judge him on what happens today," Trotz said. "He said he's enthused about getting back and just getting a feel for the NHL. If he can give us some good minutes tonight, we'll just see where he is condition-wise and speed-wise and all that."
Alex Radulov is widely considered to be the best player in hockey who wasn't already in the NHL. (Photo: John Russell/Nashville Predators)
Radulov acknowledges he is still getting adjusted to the time zone difference -- "It's been terrible," he said -- but he said he didn't want to wait until Saturday to play again, not with Nashville down to its final nine regular-season games.
"Yeah, I'm excited," Radulov said following an optional practice. "The time's a little different, but it's not an excuse. … I need to get on the ice and do my best and help my team win."
He added, "I'm not looking for any excuses, I have to do things for team to win and that's what I have to do, no excuses."
Radulov's playing time will be closely monitored, especially as he gets reacquainted with the NHL and settles in with new teammates.
"We're not going to put him at risk," Trotz said. "When he's getting real tired obviously we'll pull him back. We'll just have dialogue, Rad just said, 'Let's talk on the bench.' He said, 'You'll see when I'm dying out,' and we'll know."
Because Radulov last played in the NHL four years ago, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma went to his own Russian star, Evgeni Malkin, plus former Nashville forward Steve Sullivan and general manager Ray Shero, who once worked in Nashville, to get a scouting report on Radulov.
"I don't know exactly what we're going to get. We know we're getting the most talented player outside of the NHL coming back to their team," Bylsma said. "We know we're getting a dynamic offensive guy (in) handling the puck, (with his) lateral movement. He's shifty out there offensively."
Radulov was a two-time MVP of the KHL, where he won a championship and was chosen as the championship MVP. He also won an IIHF World Championship and played in the Olympics. This season, he had 20 goals and 80 points in 54 games.
"I don't think it will be tough for him (shifting to the NHL)," Sullivan said. "When you're the best over there, I think you can make the transition very easily. He's played a lot of international hockey with some of best players in the world, he's played in the Olympics. He knows the League and all the players. He's a big part of the Russian hockey federation and he's used to playing with high-end talent."
Radulov said the two leagues are different -- the NHL, he said, is more physical -- and he must adjust to the change on the fly.
"I'm just trying to prepare myself -- it was a long season in Russia and now I'm here," Radulov said. "I've got to prove to myself first I can do it here. The team is good. I just want to have fun here and play for a team, the Predators, and hope to win something."
That, of course, would be the Stanley Cup. Nashville is currently fifth in the Western Conference and third in the Central Division behind overall NHL leader St. Louis and Detroit, but is a talent-heavy team that could go far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Predators added shutdown defenseman Hal Gill and forwards Paul Gaustad and Andrei Kostitsyn at the trading deadline and now have Radulov again. Gaustad won't play against Pittsburgh because of an upper-body injury.
"He's an extreme talent. He's a very offensive player. He's a game-changer," Sullivan said of Radulov. "He's also a very exciting hockey player. I didn't get a chance to play with him very much, only about 30 games, but from what I remember he's a threat every time he touches the puck."
Radulov is expected to play on a line with center David Legwand and the team's leading goal producer, Patric Hornqvist.
"(Legwand is a) good centerman, (has) good vision, a good read of the game," Radulov said. "I think it will be fine and we'll have a fun time to play together. Patric has proven he's a scorer. He's scored, what, 24 this year? It will be good for him and I think he will get more."
Before playing in his first NHL game since April 20, 2008 -- a 3-0 playoff loss to Detroit in which he was a minus-2 -- Radulov was asked to clarify whether his last name is pronounced RAD-uh-lov or Ruh-DOOH-lov.
He said either pronunciation is fine, though, in Russia, it's Ruh-DOOH-lov.
"It doesn't matter," he said. "It doesn't matter."
To the Predators, it matters a great deal that such an elite player is theirs again. No matter what time of day or what time of the season it is.