Brossard, QUEBEC — Alexander Radulov says this go around in the NHL will be different than the last two.
The 30-year-old Russian forward touched down in Montreal Saturday and made his way to the Canadiens’ south-shore practice facility Monday to pull on the team’s sweater and meet with the media for the first time since signing a one-year, $5.75 million contract on July 1.
He’s out to redeem his reputation, which originally took a hit when he opted out of the remaining year of his rookie contract with the Nashville Predators in 2008 to sign a contract with Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the Kontinental Hockey League. His rep was further marred when, shortly after his return to the Predators in 2012, he was suspended by the team for breaking curfew on the eve of a Stanley Cup playoff game.
But a lot has changed since then.
For one, he’s a family man now, after he and his wife Daria welcomed son Makar in November of 2015. Radulov torched the KHL over the last four seasons and outscored everyone in the league over the past two with 136 points in 99 games. And his general manager with CSKA Moscow, former NHL great Sergei Fedorov, told Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin that Radulov had developed into the biggest leader on his team.
“Thanks to Sergei for that,” Radulov said Monday. “I was there playing and we had a pretty young team and I had that thing that I was a leader and playing a lot of minutes. I tried to live as an example in the locker room, off the ice and on the ice. It’s helped me a lot. It’s changed my vision of the way I have to work and I have to be.”
Fedorov wasn’t the only one who endorsed Radulov. Former Predators captain Shea Weber, who was traded to Montreal in June, was consulted before Bergevin put pen to paper on Radulov’s new contract. And former Nashville head coach Barry Trotz, who now coaches the Washington Capitals, told TVA Sports over the weekend that he thinks Radulov will acquit himself well in Montreal.
Bergevin and the Canadiens are taking a low-risk gamble that Radulov will be every bit as explosive in the NHL as he was in the KHL over the past four seasons. Considering his production in Moscow and what he was able to accomplish in his short time with the Predators (47 goals and 55 assists in 154 regular season games and 14 points in 18 playoff games), they should feel confident it will pay off.
Radulov had a brief meeting with head coach Michel Therrien before chatting with the media Monday and he’s prepared to play whatever role the team has in mind. He told Therrien that he’s spent most of his time at right wing over the past four years, but is more than capable of filling in on the left.
The Canadiens could use the help on both sides. The team finished 22nd in the NHL last season and had the 16th best goals/game average (2.63).
When asked if he had a specific number of goals or points in mind for the upcoming season, Radulov didn’t bite.
“The first goal is I want to win,” he said. “I want to win every night. It doesn’t matter who’s going to score and put up the points; we want to win. It’s a team game and I think if the team is going to be successful, everyone will be successful.”
And Radulov is hoping his experience playing junior hockey with the Quebec Ramparts will help him thrive in a pressure-packed market like Montreal.
“Marc [Bergevin] was saying it’s a special place to play,” said Radulov. “I hate losing. I hate when something goes not our way. I just want to win and I think this is the place and I’m ready for it.”
Time will tell if he’s matured as much as he’d like everyone to believe.
“I’m getting older,” Radulov said. “I know I gotta take care of myself and be in shape and be 100 per cent every day. I know how to do that and I really like that I’m here right now.”