Sidney versus Alexander Thursday night? Perhaps, but it won’t be the matchup NHL fans have been used to the past few years.
We’re talking Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins hosting Alexander Radulov and Nashville, not Ovechkin’s Capitals.
Radulov, like Ovechkin a Russian forward, officially rejoined the Predators on Wednesday and soon will don No. 47 — a number the team held for him — for the first time since the 2007-08 season when he turned his back on a binding NHL contract to join Salavat Yulaev Ufa in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
"It certainly wasn't fun in 2008 when he left. That wasn't a good thing," Predators general manager David Poile said at Wednesday's news conference. "Maybe now this is a real good thing. Maybe now we get back a more finished product, a more mature person and player and maybe this works out really good for us. That's certainly what I'm hoping."
Poile hasn’t forgotten what the talented 25-year-old right-winger did a few years ago, but it sounds like he has forgiven Radulov — at least while his team jockeys for playoff position.
“Adding the best player in the world not currently in the National Hockey League can only help the Nashville Predators,” Poile said. “Alex is a terrific talent and a proven goal-scorer who will now have a chance to help the Predators.
“We always believed he would return. We welcome him back and look forward to his contributions.”
Radulov could be a potential game-changer for a Predators team that was fourth in the Western Conference with a 42-23-8 record entering play Wednesday.
Best player outside NHL?
He scored 26 goals as a sophomore in the NHL and went on to become a two-time KHL MVP and Russian Olympian, prompting some to label him the best player outside of North America.
The Predators lost in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs last season, and Poile brought in defenceman Hal Gill and forwards Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad at the trade deadline trying to plug holes.
Nashville suspended Radulov indefinitely in September 2008, though Poile stayed in touch trying to convince him to return.
"We knew you'd be back," Poile said as he presented Radulov the team's re-designed sweater with his old number.
Radulov can burn off the final season of his entry-level contract signed in 2006 by playing one game, and is eligible to become a restricted free agent July 1.
Both Poile and Radulov said they are focused only on finishing the regular season and the playoffs. Poile said he hopes Radulov has a longer stay in Nashville.
The president of the KHL has said Radulov will be back in that league next season, but the player said he did not say anything or promise anything to anybody.
"I just left and like I said I got the opportunity to move from Russia this summer, so that's about it and I'll decide then …," Radulov said.
No ties to KHL
Poile said there's lots of misinformation out there. The GM said Radulov told him he does not have a contract or promise to go back to the KHL.
"It's our goal to have him stay here longer. Again, no pressure right now. Just play, and we'll talk and see what makes sense going forward for both of us," Poile said.
In Radulov’s lone NHL season, he had 26 goals and 58 points, finishing third among second-year players in goal-scoring. He set single-season franchise marks for goals (18) and points (37) by a Predators’ rookie in 2007.
"I'm happy to come back and be here because I mean I play here two years, and I remember all the moments," Radulov said. It's good to be back here you know. Feel good and just looking forward to help the team be better. I know it is a good young team. I know some guys from it. We're good friends of mine.
"I do whatever it takes to help the team be better."
Some of those friends include captain Shea Weber and defenceman Ryan Suter. Radulov also played with defenceman Kevin Klein and forwards David Legwand, Martin Erat and Jordin Tootoo.
Other NHL teams are not happy Radulov did not have to go through waivers on his return. But Radulov remained under contract with Nashville, and the Predators lifted their suspension of Radulov on Wednesday morning.
Internationally, Radulov has represented Russia at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, five world championships — winning in 2008 and 2009 — and two world junior championships in 2005 and ’06.
Radulov hasn't skated in a couple weeks because he said there was no ice to work on in Russia, and he also was busy wrapping up paperwork needed for him to leave. Poile said coach Barry Trotz will decide after the morning skate Thursday if Radulov plays against the Penguins.
Nashville will host the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.
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