Alexander Radulov was Marc Bergevin’s major free agent signing this offseason and he comes to Montreal with a ton of both baggage and skill. Nobody doubts the talent the mercurial Russian will add to what was an offensively-underwhelming Canadiens lineup; however, headed into a season that is already rife with divisive narratives, the question of whether or not Radulov can thrive as a legitimate top-line threat in the NHL will greatly influence the Habs’ fate this year.
Given that he was playing in the KHL, much of what fans, myself included, will have seen of Radulov lately consists of game snippets, highlight packages and fan tribute videos of Radulov/CSKA Moscow posted on the web. This, along with the multitude of articles provide a fairly consistent account of Radulov continuing to bring speed, skill and a physical presence as a top-line offensive threat for CSKA Moscow. He played both LW and RW on the top line and was a mainstay on the first power play unit, including some time at the right point. Defence, while not his strong suit, was not a weakness and his coach consistently played him at crucial times in close games, and he was often in on the ice in the dying minutes with his team protecting a lead or looking for an equalizer.
Radulov played a strong power forward game that continued to place him near the top of the league in multiple offensive categories. Although his points and PIMS dipped slightly from the previous year, he still managed to put up 65 points in 53 games, which would be a prorated 101 points over an 82 game season. Using the current NHL equivalency of .78 (NHL-E), Radulov would have scored 78 points in 82 games last season in the NHL. While equivalencies are not exact, and he played for a different team with a different style, these numbers still give a reasonable idea of what Radulov is still capable of bringing to the table.
He also led his team in playoff scoring with 16 points in 20 games as Moscow went the distance, losing in game seven of the Gagarin Cup finals. Radulov’s 16 points were good for a third place tie in league scoring and his 26 PIMS were the highest of any top-ten playoff scorer.
Season Stats (KHL): 53 GP, 23 goals, 42 assists, 65 points, +28 rating, 73 PIMS
Radulov’s averages are for the previous the previous four seasons he spent in the KHL (including NHL-E stats pro-rated against potential of an 82 game season and points additionally modified to account for 0.78 value of KHL points versus NHL points at 1.0 value).
GP: 45/60 (KHL) … 61/82 (NHL-E)
Goals: 20 (KHL) … 21 (NHL-E)
Assists: 40 (KHL) … 42 (NHL-E)
Points: 60 (KHL) … 63 (NHL-E)
+/-: +24 (KHL) … +32 (Pro-rated for a potential 82 game season)
PIMS: 94 (KHL) … 127 (Pro-rated for a potential 82 game season)
Radulov will likely be given an opportunity to show what he brings to the top line. His usage will depend on his ability to gain Michel Therrien’s trust throughout the preseason; however, given his skill level and Montreal’s need for offence, it can be assumed that he will get quality minutes in an offensive role, as well as significant power play time.
His ability to play either wing, and bring a power forward (6’1, 200lbs) presence with a mean streak provides a versatile tool for the Habs to deploy. While I would love to see what he is capable of on a true top line with Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty, Therrien may want to balance the lines and put Gallagher there instead, with Radulov slotting next to Tomas Plekanec and Sven Andrighetto/Andrew Shaw/Artturi Lehkonen or any number of other players sure to make up what will be the turnstile slot this season.
Trying to figure out Therrien’s plans for any player – let alone someone with Radulov’s checkered reputation for ‘respeck-ting’ authority is an exercise that defies logic and common sense. Yet Radulov’s immense skill is tempered by a fiery competitiveness and fair amount of sandpaper. He is less prone to taking games and shifts off than other recent Russian forwards on the team and adds a physical presence by the net and along the boards that forces opponents to keep their heads on a swivel.
Radulov will be given a shot to prove he is more Alex Kovalev than Alex Semin. If things work out, he could end up being the highest-scoring forward this team has seen in years – if not, he should bottom out as a 40-50 point player based on skill alone. I see him as a valuable part of a (hopefully) re-vamped, Kirk Muller-led power play, but, it should be noted that even though he has only 90 games of NHL experience in the last nine years – his 5v5 stats during that time place him second in the NHL for points/game, second only to Sidney Crosby.
Radulov is certainly one of the biggest question marks in terms of fantasy for the entire NHL, let alone the Canadiens. With the emergence of Galchenyuk as a bona fide top-line centre (for now) and win-now mentality that may see even more offence added to the mix throughout the season, Alex stands a good chance of finding himself in a situation where he can thrive.
Pressure does not seem to bother him, and it appears as though he really wants to be in Montreal – knowing that, at 30, this is his last chance to make an impression in North America and cash in on his immense hockey talent for a big payday that will last him and his young family after he retires. I personally really like the signing, but always try to temper my expectations based on the fact that the current system employed by Therrien is so defensive in posture. That said, I believe we will see an exciting and productive season from Radulov, who has everything to prove and the talent and resume to back it up.