BROSSARD - Alexander Radulov began soaking up his new surroundings over the weekend before hitting the ice for the very first time in Canadiens colors on Monday morning.
After being introduced to members of the Canadiens' brass at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard, Radulov suited up and practiced with many of his new teammates, including captain Max Pacioretty , Torrey Mitchell , Sven Andrighetto , Stefan Matteau and Mike Condon , along with Russian prospects Nikita Scherbak and Mikhail Sergachev.
The 30-year-old right-winger, who also took time out to skate and pose for pictures with campers at the inaugural Canadiens Girls Hockey School after his practice session, couldn't stop smiling as he fielded questions from media members in the dressing room before going house hunting for a second straight day.
"It's an honor. I'm really happy to finally be here, get ready for the season, train with the guys and be in this amazing facility. It's a lot of fun and I'm excited," said Radulov, who was met by a throng of reporters for his first formal media scrum since signing a one-year free-agent contract with the Canadiens on July 1st following a four-year stint with CSKA Moscow in the KHL. "I'm excited to be back in the NHL, first of all. Being a part of Montreal, they're a huge club. It's always a hockey town. They always want to make a run and go for the Cup. That's the reason I chose Montreal. I just want to win. I think this is the place. I'm ready for it."
The fact that Radulov had spent a couple of years plying his trade in Quebec City earlier in his career made Monday's experience feel like a homecoming of sorts. A standout for the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts between 2004 and 2006, Radulov said it certainly played an important part in his decision to sign on the dotted line seven weeks ago.
"When I first got to Canada, it was Quebec City. It wasn't the NHL, but I had a good experience. We had a good group of guys there. We won the Memorial Cup. It was a lot of fun. I saw those fans, and they were the happiest people in the world," recalled Radulov, referencing the Remparts' Memorial Cup triumph in 2006. "What can be better than when you make the fans happy? That's the best thing. In the end, we all play for the fans, for people who come to our games."
Playing in that type of environment is just added motivation for a player eager to prove he can still be a force to be reckoned with on this side of the pond. Radulov's last NHL outing came on April 7, 2012, so it's safe to say he's keen on making his return count.
"I haven't been here [in North America] for four years. I know what people are expecting of me. I know they haven't seen me for a few years. I'm ready. I want to prove to everybody and to myself, first of all, that I can play here, be a good player, and help the team," said Radulov, who comes to the Canadiens with 154 games of NHL experience on his resume - all with the Nashville Predators. "It's a new challenge for me. I'm really looking forward to it. I can't wait to start. I just have to prepare and be ready."
Radulov will continue his preparation going forward entirely on the South Shore. He believes all the ingredients are in place for his new club to enjoy a successful year coming off one of the toughest campaigns in recent memory. In short, the newly minted No. 47 plans on doing everything in his power to help out wherever and whenever he can.
"I'm going to show my best. I'll try to work hard every day on the ice and outside the ice, too, be a leader in the locker room, help the guys and try to be one family. In the end, that's what matters. If we have a good group of guys and we're family, that way you can have a good chance to win," said Radulov, who is quickly getting a sense of the type of group the Canadiens have assembled for the 2016-17 season. "There are a lot of good players in this locker room. There's Max [Pacioretty], [Alex] Galchenyuk, [Shea] Weber. I think there are enough good players for us to play good hockey."
Being a go-to player in a pressure-packed market like Montreal, meanwhile, doesn't faze the two-time Olympian and two-time World Hockey Championship gold medalist. According to Radulov, he dealt with similar expectations back home with CSKA, a club like the Canadiens with a great deal of history and a track record of success.
"I'm fine with the pressure. I played in Russia for the last four years. I was playing good. I had pressure, too, because of my contract. It will always be there. It's fine," said Radulov, who isn't at all worried about getting re-acclimated to the NHL style of play in short order. "I think it won't be a problem. The coaches will show us the way they want us to play on video. As a player, I have to come every day and try to do it. I want to be a team player. I think I can do that. I've done it before, playing both ways on the ice and creating scoring chances."
With that in mind, the countdown is on for Radulov to make his Canadiens debut on October 13th in Buffalo. Hearing long-time Bell Centre public address announcer Michel Lacroix introduce him at the home opener five days later, though, will be an equally momentous occasion.
"I'm kind of imagining it. I can't wait to start," concluded Radulov, who will soon be joined by his wife, Daria, and nine-month-old son, Makar, in Montreal. "If you're not nervous, I think it's not right. It's a good thing when you're nervous. As soon as you step on the ice, you forget about it and you get that emotion going."