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Radulov makes his mark with Nashville Predators, earns permanent NHL job

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The Nashville Predators have told the rookie winger to look for a place to live in the Music City because he's staying in the NHL.

It took two successful stints in the American Hockey League and eight goals in his first 16 NHL games to convince them he belonged. Radulov never doubted it for a moment.

"I'm really enjoying the time I'm here," he said Monday from Nashville, Tenn. "I feel really good. It's the best league and it was my dream to make it to the NHL. It feels unbelievable."

The shifty winger is a bundle of enthusiasm.

Whether he's scoring a highlight-reel goal or representing the team at a charity event, Radulov does it with his own unique style.

"He's entertaining on the ice; he's entertaining off the ice," said coach Barry Trotz. "He seems like he's always on Red Bull or something. He's got lots of energy."

It makes him tough for defenders to control.

It also presents the team with a unique challenge.

"If we didn't kick him off the ice every day, he'd be out there for three or four hours," said Trotz. "He loves to play."

That much has been clear for anyone who has watched him play an NHL game this season.

Since being recalled from AHL Milwaukee for a second time in mid-November, Radulov has scored six times in 10 games. Three of those goals were game-winners.

His eight total goals leave him third amongst rookies and he's played half as many games as most of the others. Radulov, though, is taking it all in stride.

"All the time I'm here, I'm just try to improve myself and show that I deserve to be in the NHL," he said. "I want to be here and I think I can play here."

He thought that during training camp as well but the Predators decided it would be best for him to start the season in Milwaukee.

Radulov responded by scoring seven points in his first three games and being named the AHL's player of the week.

While it was tough starting the year in the minors, he knew it was because the Nashville team he was trying to crack was among the best in the entire NHL.

"Sometimes it's not because you're not ready," said Radulov. "It was about the team's situation. They had too many good players.

"But I didn't give up. I just tried to work hard there until they had a chance to call me up."

Barring something unforeseen, coach Trotz thinks he's now in the NHL for good.

The Predators are extremely pleased they selected Radulov with the 15th pick in the 2004 NHL draft. As he showed last year while putting up 152 points in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Russian has a knack for finding the net.

Trotz believes the next step in his progression will be learning to position himself properly away from the play. NHL stars spend less time controlling the play than junior ones.

"They're used to having the puck at the junior level," said Trotz. "When we talk to Rad, we tell him: 'The best player without the puck is the next one to have it.' And he wants the puck all the time."

It's the same kind of desire that can be found in all the special players.

Radulov really learned to use it to his advantage after moving from Russia and playing the last two season with the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts.

Last season was particularly special. Not only did Radulov win the Memorial Cup and lead the entire CHL in scoring, but he also lived with Remparts owner and coach Patrick Roy.

Radulov's agent, Jay Grossman, thinks spending so much time with the Hall of Famer had a tremendous impact on the player's development.

"The experience for Alex was amazing," said Grossman. "I can't say enough about how much Patrick understood him. He drove him to succeed and taught him how to be a leader."

Radulov agrees.

He still calls Roy from time to time and plans to visit him and other friends in Quebec over the summer.

"He's the greatest person I've probably ever met," Radulov said of Roy. "He's a good guy and a good coach.

"He taught me that you can never give up and you have to always work hard. He went through it. He knows what it's all about."

Radulov is starting to understand what it's all about.

While he loves to score goals - "everybody does," he says with a laugh - Radulov is focused on helping the Predators stay among the NHL's elite.

Nashville leads the Central Division with an 18-8-3 mark heading into Tuesday's game against the Edmonton Oilers.

Meanwhile, he's 10th in rookie scoring and will soon be climbing that list now that he's in the NHL for good. He just won't be watching.

"I don't even try to look at that," said Radulov. "I just try not to think about.

"It doesn't matter to me if I score or if my teammates score. I just want to win the game and make our fans happy."

It's something those in Nashville can plan on him doing for a long time.


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