-- Wednesday was not a typical day-after-a-loss practice for the Nashville Predators
"We lost last night?" quipped defenseman Ryan Suter
Such was the energy that forward Alexander Radulov
added in his first practice with the team in four years, after abandoning his NHL contract to play in the KHL. Nashville lifted the suspension Wednesday and Radulov will travel with the team later in the day for its game with Pittsburgh on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US). It has not been determined if he will play.
The high-scoring right wing practiced on a line with center David Legwand
and left wing Patric Hornqvist
, Nashville's leader with 24 goals. He also practiced on the team's second power-play unit with four forwards: Radulov, Legwand and Andrei Kostitsyn
up front, with Sergei Kostitsyn
and defenseman Ryan Ellis
on the points.
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As hinted by Suter, one of the team's leaders, the practice did not have the air of drudgery that such a session can take on after a loss in the 73rd game of the season.
"The great thing was it was a little playful day a little bit today," Nashville coach Barry Trotz
said. "The leadership group was happy, and when your core group is excited about someone that's into your group, that's a good add. Sometimes you add … and players are like, 'All right,' but they're excited. To me, that's the most exciting thing. He's brought excitement to that core group. It makes us better."
In some ways, having Radulov back was like a reunion of long lost friends. Suter said that before Radulov left, Suter did not have children, so he took some jibes from Radulov for that. In turn, Suter joked that maybe Radulov could babysit for him.
In a news conference before practice, Radulov talked about how he kept in contact with captain Shea Weber
, calling him at times while also talking to him at the Olympics in 2010 and at the IIHF World Championships when both participated.
Weber said there never was an awkward tone to the conversations.
"It's his decision to go back," Weber said. "Obviously, it was tough for us to take because he was one of our best players as a 20-year-old, 21-year-old. For a guy to leave like that, it's tough, but it's his decision and now that he's back we're excited that he's here and hopefully he can help his team."
Weber was asked if the situation was akin to a player leaving via free agency. He said it was not because the Preds never played against him.
"It was frustrating," Weber said. "Knowing him, you know how good he wanted to be and he wanted to be one of the best players in the world. I think he's got the talent to do so and now that he's back in the NHL he's got a chance to show people how good he is."
Weber said that despite Radulov's lack of sleep from getting in late and the long flight from Russia the day before, that Radulov was "flying around" during warm-ups and that he "brought a lot of energy to other guys, as well."
"Sometimes you add … and players are like, 'All right,' but they're excited. To me, that's the most exciting thing. He's brought excitement to that core group. It makes us better." -- Barry Trotz
Hornqvist, who never played with Radulov, also noted that Radulov was flying around.
"He's got lots of skill," Hornqvist said. "He shows in the first practice. I'm really looking forward to start playing with him. … He's a great player. He's going to fit me and Leggie (Legwand) good. I'm looking forward to (Thursday) and hopefully we can get some energy right away."
Radulov played some with Legwand in his prior tenure with the Preds.
"It was two years here and I was really young," Radulov said. "They put me wherever they feel like. I was playing with basically everybody. … It doesn't matter. Just come and do your job."
Trotz noted the difference in Radulov from the one who left to the one who returned.
"I think a more mature model, which is, to me, great because he's more mature in everything," Trotz said. "He's bigger, he's smarter. He's more hockey-savvy, with more poise, so, yeah, he's an improved version, which is great because he was a good version when he was here."