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Where will Radulov fit in with Predators?

by John Manasso
NASHVILLE -- When he took a picture of himself aboard a plane and posted it on Twitter at 5:22 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Alexander Radulov turned up the speculation surrounding his long-awaited return to the NHL to an even more frenzied pitch -- if that's possible.

Following his team's morning skate, Predators coach Barry Trotz, whose team would be the beneficiary of Radulov's return to the League after four seasons in the KHL, tried his best to answer questions about Radulov's impending return.

"Yes, there's a strong rumor and possibility that Radulov is on a plane coming here," Trotz said. "I get that. If he's here, then we'll fit him in the lineup, just like we have (others). The great thing is just like the other guys, there's seven or eight guys who know him. When (Paul) Gaustad got here and when (Hal) Gill got here, they didn't know anybody. So I think it's going to be an easier transition. Can he help us? Yes, he can. He'll have to transition over here as quick as possible."


Radulov tweets he's on his way to Preds
The Predators forward, who left the team in 2008 to play in Russia tweeted from his personal account (@RADUL22) that he was on a plane heading to New York and then Nashville. READ MORE ›
Trotz was asked what he had been told of the situation by general manager David Poile.

"He's probably on a plane," Trotz said. "Hopefully coming here. That's all I know."

Radulov, the team's 2004 first-round pick, played two seasons for Nashville, with a high of 26 goals in 2007-08 before abandoning his entry-level contract and signing with Salavat Yulayev Ufa. Because of the special circumstances surrounding his case, the League has ruled that Radulov will not be subject to waivers and can join the Predators immediately.

As much as he attempted to keep the focus on Tuesday's game with Edmonton following a 2-1-1 road trip to the West Coast, Trotz was peppered with questions about Radulov and how he will fit on a team that entered the day fourth in the Western Conference.

Among the questions, Trotz was asked to compare the situation to Nashville's acquisition of Peter Forsberg in 2007. Trotz said teammates were in awe of Forsberg, a situation that won't happen with Radulov.

"You stood around and said, 'Hey, what's he going to do, what's he going to do?'" Trotz said. "And we went into that playoffs, we had a really good team, but it's like a lot of things, we had a lot of injuries the last 10 games and got in the playoffs and were calling up guys from Milwaukee (AHL), that's a tough way to go …

"I think we're in a better mind set (this season). Going into it, we have the ability to replace some people, which is key in the playoffs. You have probably five lines that can play in the NHL with different roles. That helps us. Same with the defense. Some guys are young, but they've had good experience."

The double-edged sword represented by Radulov's return is that while he adds perhaps a world-class scoring threat, he also could disrupt chemistry and add to a load of forwards sitting out on a nightly basis. Gaustad (upper-body injury) is doubtful for Tuesday's game against the Oilers, and Colin Wilson has missed two straight. Brian McGrattan has not played since Feb. 4. Radulov's entry into the lineup could force the team to sit productive players such as Gabriel Bourque, Brandon Yip or Matt Halischuk.

It's a topic players are sensitive to  talk about, so Radulov's possible return has remained a quiet subject in the dressing room.

"That's not fair for guys who have been working hard all year for us to say, 'Aw, I can't wait for this guy to come back here,'" Predators All-Star defenseman Ryan Suter said. "Obviously, guys know he's one of the best players outside of the NHL. They're aware of that and I'm sure they're understanding."

"That's not fair for guys who have been working hard all year for us to say, 'Aw, I can't wait for this guy to come back here.' Obviously, guys know he's one of the best players outside of the NHL. They're aware of that and I'm sure they're understanding." -- Ryan Suter

Suter will be an unrestricted free agent July 1 and has said he will not re-sign until after the team's season is complete. The belief is that Suter wants to see that Nashville can add top players and compete for a Stanley Cup before possibly re-signing. He was asked how Radulov's return could impact his thinking.

"I'm not thinking about that," he said. "I'm thinking about helping this team, winning the Stanley Cup and the rest of it will take care of itself. It doesn't affect me either way whether Rads comes back or not. Like I said, every situation is different for everyone."

Predators captain Shea Weber said that when he saw the photo of Radulov on the plane on Twitter, he laughed, knowing Radulov's personality. The two of them are only a year apart in age and came up together with the Predators.

Asked what Radulov could add to the team, Weber noted that Nashville already has the best depth he's seen since arriving in the NHL. Adding Radulov's potential scoring could make Nashville's top-ranked power play -- functioning at 21.6-percent efficiency -- even more dangerous.

"Hopefully it makes our power play even better," Weber said. "It's been great this year, but I think it can still be a little more consistent. We've gone in spurts this year; hopefully that can help."

As much as Trotz might have voiced some frustration with all of the attention being focused on a player not yet with his team, Trotz admitted Radulov is a special player.

"One thing you know about Rad, he knows a lot about the NHL," Trotz said. "It's amazing how informed he is. He knows about the history of the NHL. You could ask him about a player from the '60s and Rad knows him. Probably knows his stats, too. Rad will adjust. He's got a high skill level.

"One thing he does is he will compete and he loves to score. We know him, which is a good thing. … Our core all played with him. They all know him. The Webs and the Sutes and (Jordin Tootoo) and (Kevin Klein) and Pekka (Rinne). I think the transition will be a lot easier, even for a guy who comes maybe from another team."

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