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Return of Radulov sets Predators up as Stanley Cup contender

Alexander Radulov officially returned to the Nashville Predators on Wednesday. (Getty Images)

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Alexander Radulov officially returned to the Nashville Predators on Wednesday. (Getty Images)

‘A-Rad’ is back. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a chance to use that nickname for right winger Alexander Radulov, but I’m sure Nashville fans easily trump my excitement when it comes to the high-scoring Russian.

With his run in the Kontinental League finished (for now), Radulov returns to a Predators team brimming with expectations. And based on the competition, I think there’s room for a lot of optimism in Hockey Tonk country.

Maybe I’m just getting jaded, but I see way more flaws than I do potential in many of the other Stanley Cup contenders this year. Boston is in danger of burning out star netminder Tim Thomas thanks to the Tuukka Rask injury. Chicago is hot, but heart-and-soul captain Jonathan Toews is on the shelf with that ever-so-tricky concussion, meaning his return and effectiveness is an unknown. Vancouver, as an entire entity, seems to have lost its way at the worst possible time. Detroit is cursed, as the Wings continue to employ Todd Bertuzzi. OK, and they also have a lot of injuries heading into the post-season. Whoever finally survives the Pacific is going to be a bundle of frayed wires and nerves.

Sure, there are some definite contenders – Pittsburgh, the New York Rangers and St. Louis all look really solid – but why can’t Nashville be thrown into the mix?

The Predators are solid from the net out, as Pekka Rinne is huge, both literally and skill-wise. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are premier defenders and the addition of Hal Gill brings Cup experience, size and one of the best penalty-killers in the NHL to the lineup. So goals against won’t be much of a problem.

The big question in Nashville has always centered on where the scoring was going to come from. Radulov looked like the answer before he left and no one stepped up in his absence. Now he’s back. And though the Preds don’t have elite weapons, they do have solid offensive players to at least give A-Rad some room.

Certainly there will be an adjustment period and the Preds brain trust must be hoping nine regular season games will be enough. The good thing is Radulov hasn’t just been sitting around the house all year; he was playing for a very good Ufa team that just happened to get upset in the playoffs. There’s no rust to shake off, just a re-tweaking of style based on the difference in game play and ice surface in the NHL.

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“If they put me on the ice, I’m ready,” Radulov said in his return press conference. “There are no excuses.”

Luckily, there’s a perfect comparable available for A-Rad and that’s Philadelphia’s Jaromir Jagr. True, the Czech superstar is one of the best NHLers ever, but he’s also 15 years older, so let’s call it a wash at this point.

Jagr and Radulov went head-to-head in the KHL for three seasons, with Jagr outscoring A-Rad in the first and the new/old Predator winning the next two rounds (and winning the KHL scoring crown last year).

As a Flyer, Jagr got back in the swing of things right away with 15 points in his first 15 games. He’s currently on a bit of a cool streak and sits at 47 points in 64 games, which is still decent production. Jagr may have better linemates than Radulov will, but these numbers still bode well for Nashville fans.

The Predators have flirted with greatness before and though the Peter Forsberg experiment failed in the post-season, this time they lose nothing in getting an offensive force into the lineup.

“We’re all in,” said GM David Poile. “And we’re proud of this franchise.”

Glory may be there for the taking.

Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.

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