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X-Factor: Radulov's return adds to Preds' offense

by John Manasso

Alexander Radulov's return to the NHL has been a whirlwind.

In a stunning turn of events, Radulov, playing in the Kontinental Hockey League, was allowed to return to the NHL after the 2012 NHL Trade Deadline -- and without having to pass through waivers -- because he was still under contract to the Nashville Predators, the team on which he had walked out on four years earlier. With only nine games remaining in the regular season, Radulov didn't get a ton of time to acclimate.

Nonetheless, he has made the most of his opportunity. In his first eight games, Radulov had points in five (three goals, three assists) and in one of the two in which he did not he conjured the shootout winner.

"I think he lives for those kinds of situations," Predators captain Shea Weber said. "I think he likes to be the go-to guy, and that was a situation where he had a chance and, obviously, he made the most of it."

With Radulov rejoining the Predators four years after abandoning his contract to play in his native Russia and the KHL, Nashville possesses a threat the likes of which it has not had since Radulov's initial departure. He was a two-time scoring champion in the KHL, and when last seen in the NHL he totaled 26 goals in 81 games as a 21-year-old.

Weber sees a player who is a little bit bigger and stronger, but with the same dynamism as in 2007-08.

"He was able to score some exciting goals and I think that side is still there, but he's a little bit more mature and, obviously, he's played more hockey, so he's a little bit smarter as a player," Weber said.

Coach Barry Trotz has settled into playing Radulov on a line with newly-acquired Belarusian wing Andrei Kostitsyn and long-time Predator David Legwand at center. Trotz said he is not worried about the defensive deficiencies of such an offensive-minded trio, but they do give him reason to be wary.

"I'm concerned about them trying to be a little bit too fancy sometimes," Trotz said.

In a 2-1 shootout win against Minnesota earlier this month, Trotz said the line kept converging on the middle.

"When you're converging three guys in the middle and they have five guys in the middle -- I'm no genius -- but I know the math doesn't add up there," he said. "So you just have to play the game the way the game is asking you to play it."

Radulov said his biggest adjustment -- more so than the sleep he lost from jet lag -- has been to the smaller ice surface, as compared to the Olympic-sized rinks in the KHL.

"It's more hard to adjust for a game because the ice [is] smaller and maybe I don't have much time," he said. "The system, too, you know it's a new team. It's been a while. I wasn't here. Just need some time to adjust. Looks like everything's going not bad. I need to keep working."

Trotz said Radulov is smart and -- while some elements of the Predsators' system don't come naturally to the wing -- the coach is confident Radulov will quickly master the nuances.

It's an understatement to say the team is glad to have him back. Opponents might not be, but in the short time since he has returned, to quote Radulov, it looks like everything's going not bad.

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