Over three years since he left Nashville to pursue a playing career in his home nation of Russia, Alexander Radulov could make his return to the Predators tonight when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center.
Radulov's return to the fold had been rumored for weeks and the news became official on Wednesday, when the 25-year-old forward was re-introduced to the media in Nashville.
The controversy regarding Radulov came in the summer of 2008, when he decided to ignore the final year of his entry-level deal with the Predators in order to sign a contract with Salavat Yulayev of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League. Nashville suspended Radulov without pay for the 2008-09 season, but he was ultimately allowed to play in the KHL.
Radulov spent the last four seasons with Salavat and was named the most valuable player in the KHL for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons.
In his last season with the Preds in 2007-08, Radulov posted career-highs with 26 goals, 32 assists and 58 points in 81 games. Nashville, which is currently a point behind Detroit for the fourth seed in the West, hopes he can help the club make a deep run into the playoffs.
"Adding the best player in the world not currently in the National Hockey League can only help the Nashville Predators," said the club's general manager David Poile.
Radulov will travel with the team to Pittsburgh, but it's uncertain if he'll make his NHL season debut tonight or in Saturday's home test against Winnipeg.
The Predators lost for the third time in four games in their last trip to the ice, as they were handed a 6-3 setback by the visiting Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday. Ales Hemsky recorded his first career hat trick to lead the Oilers to the lopsided win at Bridgestone Arena.
David Legwand scored twice while Patric Hornqvist had a goal and an assist for the Preds. Pekka Rinne started the game for Nashville but was pulled after allowing three goals on seven shots. Anders Lindback relieved Rinne and stopped 10-of-12 shots.
"Tonight, they scored on every single scoring chance it felt like," said Hornqvist. "They have great skill up front and they really showed it tonight. But over 60 minutes we were the better team. We created a lot of chances; we just couldn't find the back of the net."
Nashville centerman Paul Gaustad, who was acquired from Buffalo in of the bigger deals at this year's trade deadline, sat out Tuesday's game with an upper-body injury and is questionable for tonight. Gaustad has three assists in six games with the Predators.
The Penguins are coming off a fantastic offensive performance in their last trip to the ice, as they blasted the visiting Winnipeg Jets, 8-4, on Tuesday. James Neal got his second career hat trick and was one of three Penguins with at least four points.
Evgeni Malkin added two goals -- the 200th and 201st of his career -- and Tyler Kennedy also scored twice for the Penguins, who were coming off a 3-2 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday that snapped their 11-game wining streak.
Malkin finished with five points, pushing his NHL-leading total to 93 points. The Russian star recorded his fourth five-point game of the season and is now nine points ahead of Philadelphia's Claude Giroux and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, who are tied at 84 points.
Neal and Sidney Crosby added four points apiece, while backup goaltender Brad Thiessen improved to 3-0 in three career starts despite giving up four goals on 30 shots. Crosby has registered nine points -- all assists -- in four games since returning from head and neck injuries.
Pittsburgh, which is 25-8-2 as the host this season, is three points behind the New York Rangers for first place in the Atlantic Division and is four ahead of Philadelphia for the Eastern Conference's fourth seed.
The Pens posted a 4-3 overtime win when the clubs last met on Oct. 21, 2010 in Nashville, but the Predators have a solid 7-1-1 record with a tie in the last 10 matchups.