NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Alexander Radulov's absence from practice makes the jokes far too easy: The forward is on his way back to Russia. Someone just dropped him off at the airport.
However, Nashville opponents aren't laughing.
The Predators are a more serious Stanley Cup contender with the talented forward back in the lineup after four years spent in the Kontinental Hockey League where Radulov was the all-time leading scorer with 254 points, two-time MVP and helped his team win the 2011 championship.
Detroit forward Jiri Hudler got an up-close view of Radulov in the KHL and saw a hard worker who brings lots of energy along with good hands and hockey sense.
"He was a star, best player in the league back there. I'm pretty sure he'll be here soon, too (as a star)," Hudler said Monday. "I think it'll help him that he came right after the season. He played a lot of minutes back home."
The Predators earned the No. 4 seed in the West by ranking eighth in the NHL scoring 232 goals, and they had nine players score at least 14 goals apiece with Patric Hornqvist having a team-high 27 goals and Martin Erat leading Nashville with 58 points.
Still, Radulov has the kind of scoring touch that cannot be taught. In just nine games since rejoining Nashville last month, Radulov scored seven points for a total that doesn't include his shootout game-winner over Minnesota last week.
It's why he's seen as the Predators' wild card as they open the postseason Wednesday night against Detroit in Nashville
"He just adds more skill and speed to their lineup and he's a big guy, too," Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. "Adding him late in the year, I think has helped their team."
Radulov's skill is why so many teams in the Western Conference weren't happy that he was allowed to rejoin the Predators under his rookie contract without passing through waivers. He is so dynamic that Nashville coach Barry Trotz said the Predators are learning to play with him a bit still.