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Alexander Radulov, Once a Disrupter, Grows Into a Leader for the Canadiens 
8 2016 . New York Times. By TAL PINCHEVSKY  

LOS ANGELES Slogging through a challenging California trip, the Montreal Canadiens survived a major injury scare last week after forward Alexander Radulov was bloodied by a high stick late in a 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks.

Radulov needed stitches above his right eye, but the teams relief that the injury was not more serious demonstrated the vital importance of an indispensable leader once widely considered a troublesome N.H.L. castoff.

That was close, Montreal Coach Michel Therrien said. Were really fortunate, and hes really fortunate, that everything is fine.

A star in Russia, Radulov, 30, signed a one-year contract with the Canadiens on July 1. The deal was overshadowed by the blockbuster trade two days before in which Montreal sent the superstar defenseman P. K. Subban to Radulovs former team, the Nashville Predators, for the All-Star defenseman Shea Weber.

Both moves have proved important to the Canadiens, who missed the playoffs last season after having had the best record in the N.H.L. at the end of November. They defeated the Devils on Thursday night and again hold the best record in the league, at 18-6-3.

Joining Montreal has afforded a measure of redemption for Radulov, who left the N.H.L. twice in the past eight years, each time with his reputation in tatters.

I never put an end to my N.H.L. career, Radulov said. I always wanted to come back.

The province of Quebec is an apropos destination for Radulov. As a teenager, he starred with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. After carrying the Remparts to the 2006 Memorial Cup, Canadian junior hockeys grandest prize, Radulov was hailed as a hero in the province.

Angelo Esposito, a former Remparts teammate of Radulovs, said: The fans loved him. He was kind of all over the place, bouncing off the walls. He had so much energy, but its a positive energy.

That energy proved problematic when Radulov joined the Predators, who picked him 15th over all in the 2004 draft. From the moment he arrived in 2006, Radulov showed great talent and little maturity. Barry Trotz, Nashvilles coach at the time, allocated several hours for private meetings to help mentor Radulov. Still, harnessing the young Russians focus proved difficult.

Brent Peterson, a former associate coach of the Predators, said, I never had trouble with Radss work ethic; he just needed to grow up.

He added: He couldnt sit for more than two minutes without making noise and disrupting our meetings. We put up with a lot.

In his most defiant act, Radulov signed a three-year contract in 2008 with Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League while still under contract with the Predators. The International Ice Hockey Federation roundly condemned the signing, and Nashville suspended Radulov indefinitely.

Despite the controversy, Radulov flourished in his homeland. He was named the leagues most valuable player in three consecutive seasons and captured the Gagarin Cup, the leagues championship trophy, in just his third K.H.L. season. A game-breaking talent with a showmans flair, Radulov became a superstar as well as a part of Russias considerable hockey folklore.

After all, stars do not usually come from Nizhniy Tagil, an industrial town in Russias Ural region that is known for its tank factory and numerous prisons. It has produced only four N.H.L. players, including Radulovs older brother, Igor, who briefly skated with the Chicago Blackhawks and now plays in the K.H.L.

Its a work town, a lot of factories, Radulov said. Basically there is only hockey there.

In Ufa, Radulov proved such a star that the team produced a pop song and an accompanying music video to persuade him to re-sign after his contract expired. The video tribute did not work. Radulov returned to the Predators in 2012 for a late postseason push.

Back in the N.H.L., Radulov sparked Nashvilles first-round series victory against the Detroit Red Wings. But he was suspended along with his teammate Andrei Kostitsyn for Game 3 of their second-round series against the Phoenix Coyotes after they missed curfew. Eight weeks after Nashville lost that series in five games, Radulov signed a four-year K.H.L. contract with CSKA Moscow.

Peterson recalled: We ended up losing the series, and we were the better team. We had good teams back then. He was one of the reasons why we didnt win, and he was one of the reasons why we did win.

In Moscow, Radulov won another Golden Stick as the leagues most valuable player and cemented his place as a league superstar. But a 2015-16 season in which he finished second in the K.H.L. in scoring was marked by a sobering return to Nizhniy Tagil to be with his dying grandfather. Not long after that homecoming, Radulov decided to give the N.H.L. another try.

Now a husband and the father of a young son, Radulov insisted he had matured since his time in Nashville.

When youre young, sometimes you do things and you dont realize what its going to be after, he said. Everything is still going to be with me. I have family, I have a kid. I have to lead by example. Who is he going to look for? Hes going to look for his dad.

So far, Radulov has led by example with the Canadiens. He is second on the team in points, with 21.

His array of skills was on full display against the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday. After setting up two goals by Max Pacioretty, Radulov tied the score at 3-3 with a sparkling individual effort that he celebrated by thrusting his stick along his hip like a sword into an invisible sheath. The celebration has been a Radulov staple since his teenage years in Quebec.

He scored in the ensuing shootout as Montreal earned an important 5-4 win that came at a cost. Montreals leading scorer, Alex Galchenyuk, whom Radulov has helped mold into a franchise center, sustained a knee injury late in the game. He is now out at least six weeks, placing the spotlight even more squarely on Radulov.

I just really badly wanted to come to the N.H.L., he said. I just want to prove to myself, my dad, my brother and my family. Thats the people most important to me. Obviously the fans in Montreal, too. Its all about them.

Correction: December 14, 2016
An article on Friday about Montreal Canadiens forward Alexander Radulov misstated, in some copies, the number of days between the Canadiens signing of Radulov on July 1 and the trade in which Montreal sent P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber. The trade was two days before Radulovs signing, not one.

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