LOS ANGELES — The New York Islanders only made one move heading into the 2022-23 season, as general manager Lou Lamoriello traded his 13th overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft for the Montreal Canadiens’ 22-year-old defenseman Alexander Romanov.
Alongside another 22-year-old, Noah Dobson, there could be something special brewing there for not just the upcoming season but for years.
Both players inked three-year deals with the Islanders this summer.
Romanov was described as a Darius Kasparitis type of player–per Canadiens beat writer Marco D’Amico–a player with booming hits that inject energy into a lineup.
However, for the first half of the Islanders’ season, Romanov left much to be desired.
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Although Romanov leveled his fair share of players in the first half, he was a turnover machine, especially alongside Dobson.
He led the Islanders with 40 giveaways through the first 52 games of the season at five-on-five, averaging 0.76 per game. He was stepping early and often, leading to odd-man rushes against. Not only would he mistime steps, but he did miss on a good amount of hits, which left him out of position.
Romanov was caught with his head down a bit too often as he would scan the ice, look down, and then decide to pass the puck. But that pass option was long gone.
When the NHL took a break for the All-Star festivities, Romanov was second on the Islanders in penalty minutes among defensemen (29).
When Adam Pelech went down, Islanders head coach Lane Lambert relied on the youngster a lot more out of necessity, and there were growing pains.
Because of his struggles, he was separated from Dobson, playing more often than not with Scott Mayfield.
While he looked a bit sharper, the Islanders struggled to keep the puck out of the net when they were on the ice together (376:57 per NaturalStatrick.com), being outscored 14-13, allowing 182 shots to their 172.
His 13 points through the first half of the season tied a career-high, but the Islanders needed his defensive play to be better.
And since returning from the All-Star break, Romanov looks like a completely different player, especially in the defensive zone, now paired with Ryan Pulock.
In 15 games alongside Pulock, Romanov has cut down his giveaways, with just five over his last 15 games (0.33). He has a goal and four assists, has taken just two penalties, and leads the backend with 38 hits.
He does have one goal and four assists, too.
“I think I’ve improved my game, and it’s getting better because I work on my game,” Romanov told NYI Hockey Now Monday. “I practice hard and practice every day and never stop doing that.
“So just again, I try to practice my offensive skills and the shot vision, some stuff like that, and I just practice it and improve it.”
As for what’s led to those improvements:
“I don’t know. It’s a long, long way for athletes. Sometimes your game getting down. Sometimes you play well.”
While on the ice with Pulock, the Islanders have outscored their opponents 6-3, outshooting them 54-47.
“He’s really good partner and also good guy,” Romanov said. “I don’t want to say something like… with Dobson, we have a good connection between us, and next couple of games, coaches split us, so I just want to say Pulock a good guy, and he really helped me.”
Developing defensemen, especially at the NHL level, takes time. It took Pulock a bit before he became a shutdown, top-pairing defenseman.
“If you’re looking at me, I mean, it took me three, three and a half years in Bridgeport to really maybe get some of that work down, so it can take time, and it’s a work in progress,” Pulock said. “And you’re never really perfect, right?
“You’re always trying to find different ways to improve your game.”
As for what Pulock has seen from Romanov lately:
“He’s looking a lot more comfortable. For myself, I’m trying to talk to him more, trying to be some eyes and ears for him, and trying to help out. I think that’s important, as a defense pair, to try to talk to each other because you can’t see the whole ice. When you’re battling and going back, and if you can have your partner helping, it makes a big difference. I think he looks more comfortable. He looks a little more confident, and he’s doing a better job with the puck. He’s skating pucks out of trouble, and I think that’s helped his game.”
Lambert has noticed his uptick in play as well.
“They’ve been a good pair for quite a while here,” Lamber said. “He’s just keeping the game a little bit more simple. I think Pulock gives him an opportunity to help him out offensively and moving the puck.
“It’s been a good sort of, I wouldn’t say a turnaround for Romy, but it’s been a good stretch for him.”
With 14 games to go, the Islanders will need Romanov and the rest of the defense to continue to play the shutdown brand of hockey we have seen more often than not as they try to lock down a player spot.