With the regular season over and the second season about to kick off, Alexander Radulov's name will be buzzing through conversations all across Montreal.
Having just finished the regular season leg of his one-year deal, the Russian sniper is gearing up for postseason hockey in Montreal. Instead of thinking about his long-term plans come July 1, Radulov is instead focused on goals of a more short-term variety.
"There are a lot of discussions [in the media] about [my contract], but that's for my agent and the general manager. I'm just trying to concentrate on my game. I don't want to talk about it, even if people are asking me questions," explained Radulov regarding contract discussions. "I don't want to get mixed up in that talk because this is the most important time of the year. We're in the playoffs, and what I want is to win. It's what everyone wants. We want to play our best hockey."
All that said, one thing is certain: Radulov loves his current NHL home.
"I love everything about Montreal. I love everything about the hockey - the team, and obviously the fans. That's who we play for. What would we do if they weren't there, play in an empty arena? That wouldn't be fun. When you step out onto the ice at the Bell Centre and you have 22,000 people cheering you on, who expect you to give it your all and expect you to play with heart and try to win games, that's what I really love about Montreal," said the 30-year-old winger, who has racked up 54 points, including 18 goals, this season.
It shouldn't be surprising that the 15th overall pick from the 2004 NHL Entry Draft chooses to focus on his game. Radulov is having so much fun on the ice, he sometimes looks like a kid in a candy store.
"I love hockey, it's a huge part of my life. It's what I do, and who I am," he stressed.
It isn't uncommon to see him grinning from ear-to-ear at practice or exploding with joy celebrating a goal - whether his own or that of a teammate. For the veteran sharp-shooter, it's all about making the most of every second he's at the rink.
"As I get older, I realize that time moves quickly, and one day there won't be any hockey for me. I just want to enjoy the moment. Whenever I can, whether it's in practice or during a game, I just want to take advantage of it," he explained.
If ever he's going through a funk, hockey is his route out. Sometimes, just lacing up his skates is all it takes to boost his mood.
"Like with any of the guys, when things aren't going the way we want them to - even if we can sometimes get tired or something - everything changes when you get on the ice," he shared.
"There's no down time, because you'd be hurting the whole team. It's your job. You can maybe not feel so great, or you feel tired, but you have to do it for the team. You sweat it out a bit and everything will be ok," continued the former Quebec Remparts star.
Radulov's life is more than a little different now than it was during his first stint in the NHL, having spent the last nine years in the KHL - save for a brief return with the Nashville Predators in 2011-12.
While hockey may have been his first love, it has been relegated to second place on his list of priorities since he celebrated the birth of his son, Makar, a year-and-a-half ago. Baby Radu and his mother are back in Russia, but the electrifying forward makes a point to check in every day on FaceTime.
Radulov doesn't think parenting has changed him, except…
"We all make mistakes. But when you make one when you're 21 or 25, it hurts you a bit and then you won't let it happen again, unless you're dumb," admitted Radulov, who famously missed curfew during the playoffs while with the Predators as a young NHLer. "It's normal for people to learn as they get older. But I think that when Makar came along, things changed.
"I started to think a bit more about what I need to do - and what I don't want to do - and I think about how things would affect my family," he added. "It's the most important thing because at the end of the day, I'm his father and I need to lead by example, because he'll look up to me as he grows up. I want him to see that his dad was always there for him. I want to raise him to be a good person."
The on-ice adjustment has been an easy one for Radulov, who stresses that he didn't feel like he had something to prove when he moved back to this side of the Atlantic. The only person he needed to answer to was himself.
"That's how I was raised, that's what my parents taught me. I have to prove it to myself above all. That's the most important thing for me and my family. I always want to grow, to succeed, to improve myself every day," outlined the Nizhny Tal native.
Radulov has found himself a second family in Montreal. And while he is very close with his fellow Russian teammates - Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, Nikita Nesterov, and American-born Alex Galchenyuk, who has Russian roots - the veteran isn't big on language-based cliques.
"It's nice to have them around, because I can speak my language and joke around with them, so it's a plus, but we're a team. The goal is to become a big family," he underlined. "We all have the same goal and we need to work together to achieve it."