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Alexander Radulov: The Stars’ Invisible Superstar

When the Dallas Stars signed Alexander Radulov to a five-year, $31.25 million contract on July 3, 2017, the reviews were mostly positive. Radulov was coming off of a solid season with 18 goals and 36 assists for the Montreal Canadiens. That single season in Montreal had removed some of the concerns that had haunted his turbulent early career as a Nashville Predator. Back from two stints in the KHL, the Canadiens considered Radulov an ideal teammate and ultimately offered him the identical contract that he signed with Dallas.

Radulov stuck with his commitment to the Stars. The contract that he signed did raise some concerns, especially being a five-year deal for a player on the north side of 30.

Two years in though, the Radulov contract looks good. In each of the first two years, he posted 72 points, and last year, for the first time in his career, he averaged more than a point a game. There are still three more years on the deal, so Father Time hasn’t had his final say, but as a 32-year-old last year, Radulov had his best, most complete season in the NHL. Any regression is from a pretty high ceiling.

The great thing about Radulov is that the deeper you dig into his numbers, the better he looks. Taking the Wins Above Replacement model developed by (@EvolvingHockey), Radulov led last year’s team by a sizable margin, and a full half-win above Tyler Seguin.

Likewise, as a playmaking forward, Radulov excels in multiple categories, and is positive even in his weakest area — zone entries.

For a different representation of Radulov’s contributions, shows offensive and defensive contributions by individual skaters, both at even-strength and on the power play or penalty kill. Radulov drives significant offense, as demonstrated by the charts below:

On both the power play, and especially at even-strength, Radulov is a significant contributor. What brings out the overall contribution the most, however, is looking at the Stars’ even-strength chart without Radulov.

For a team that was 27th in the league in even-strength goal scoring, the impact of Radulov on the offense cannot be understated.

Looking forward to the 2019-20 season, Radulov is one of just a handful of Dallas forwards who consistently distribute the puck into high-danger areas. As a result, he helps to make his linemates better. To a man, each Star showed better shot share when they were on the ice with Radulov.

What isn’t apparent from all of the charts is the impact that Radulov has as the first man in on the forecheck. Denying time and space to defenders exiting the zone is integral to the Stars’ swarming, coordinated press. Radulov attacks defenders with abandon, and whether it is to give time to his teammates for a line change or an attempt to dislodge the puck, he is effective. At times, this can lead to stick fouls or extended shifts, but those are characteristics of the aggressive forecheck, and given the state of the Dallas penalty kill, they are a minor price to pay.

You expect a 33-year-old winger to be hanging on to a steepening age curve, not posting new career highs. The Dallas Stars are in a Stanley Cup window with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, and they’ve brought in some additional aging veterans with a hope to get through. Hockey is usually not kind to players as they pass through their fourth decade. Joe Pavelski (35) has found a way to survive and thrive, and the hope in Dallas is that Corey Perry (34) can rediscover his scoring touch after an extended recovery.

Radulov has entered a time where the aging curve is supposed to catch up to him. Since coming to Dallas, he has defied the odds. His game has evolved, not regressed. What may not be fully appreciated is how much the Stars have come to depend on the highly effective version of Radulov, and the potential disaster hiding around the corner if he hits the aging wall.