MONTREAL - Alexander Radulov made a triumphant return to the NHL ranks this past season.
Following a productive four-year stint in the KHL, the 30-year-old Russian sniper signed a one-year deal with the Canadiens last July, and went on to prove that he could once again be a dominant force on this side of the pond, too.
Radulov lit the lamp 18 times during the regular season. He also chipped in with a team-high 36 assists to finish second on the roster with 54 points, trailing only captain Max Pacioretty in that department. His six power play goals and team-leading 22 points with the man advantage weren't too shabby, either.
Nevertheless, the ultra-competitive former 15th overall selection insists he still has more to give. He wasn't necessarily pleased with a few extended periods of inconsistency.
"I didn't have a bad season, but there are parts of the year when you're not playing well or things aren't going well. It was my first year back. I missed four years. The game has changed a little bit, too," said Radulov, who prior to the 2016-17 campaign hadn't seen NHL action since the 2011-12 postseason with the Nashville Predators. "You need time to start feeling your game here again. I think next year will be better."
That is, if there is a "next year" of course. It still remains to be seen if Radulov and the Habs' brass will manage to negotiate a contract to keep him in the fold for the foreseeable future. The Canadiens' No. 47 made it abundantly clear, though, that he'd love things to work out that way this summer. His admiration for the organization as a whole and the incredible fan base is undeniable.
"I knew it was one of the best organizations in hockey. Everything, even just the practice facility and the travelling, it's high-class," praised Radulov, who would prefer to sign a multi-year deal at this stage of his career. "You cannot imagine how good it is to play here. It's an honor. The fans have been so good to us, to our team. They supported us the whole year. In the playoffs, it was an amazing three games at home, even if we lost all of them. The fans were still there for us. It's something special."
It was during that abbreviated playoff run that Radulov's heartfelt passion for the game was on full display. After notching the dramatic overtime winner in Game 2 against the New York Rangers at the Bell Centre to cap a three-point night, he added another highlight-reel goal and an assist in the Game 3 win at Madison Square Garden. The first-round loss, though, wasn't easy to digest, of course.
Video: MTL@NYR, Gm3: Radulov nets nifty one-handed goal
"Obviously, I'm not happy we lost in the first round. That isn't the goal that we put in front of us at the beginning of the year, at the beginning of the playoffs. I wish we could do better," said Radulov, who led the Canadiens with five assists and seven points in the series. "You've got to learn from it. Everyone gave their best and we were trying. Those little mistakes, little details, cost us games."
There's no denying the fact that Radulov's teammates are hoping he'll be right alongside them again this fall to help right the wrongs of last year. He definitely made a good impression on everyone around him.
"He's a player that works. Not only does he have incredible skills, but he brings so much energy and emotion. He's a perfect player for us," said Phillip Danault, who centered the Canadiens' most frequently used line all year long in between Radulov and Pacioretty. "Players like that don't exist on every street corner. I hope he comes back."
Goaltender Carey Price is certainly in agreement there, noting that Radulov's gregarious demeanor - in addition to his relentless work ethic - were important additions to the locker room.
"Everybody knows how he plays. He plays hard, and he's a fun guy to hang out with," said Price. "He's a character, and he made it fun to come to the rink every day."