The New York Islanders have only made one trade this offseason, and it came on the first night of the 2022 NHL Draft when general manager Lou Lamoriello traded the Islanders’ 13th overall pick to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for restricted free agent defenseman Alexander Romanov.
On Monday, the New York Islanders inked Alexander Romanov to a three-year deal worth $7.5 million, carrying an annual cap hit of $2.5 million.
He addressed the New York media for the first time Monday afternoon.
“Oh, I was shocked. Honestly, it was a surprise for me,” Alexander Romanov said about being traded. “You know, I didn’t expect this but I’m so excited to be here. And I’m already on the Long Island and getting ready for the season and ready to play and ready to play right now.”
As for his game, Romanov shared that he wants to add more offense, while making sure he continues to bring that defensive element on a nightly basis.
“Yeah, I would like to bring much offense right now because all offseason I worked only like with puck, with skills because I want to improve my game with puck,” Romanov said. “But I also can play physical. I also can hit guys, start attacks, breakout, something like that.”
“But yeah, I want to play more in the offensive zone, but I want to bring assists and stuff, like a more offensive game.
He added that he and fellow Russian Ilya Sorokin, who were former teammates on CSKA Moscow, are best friends.
“He’s one of my best friends right now. And we hang at his house all day long,” Romanov said.
Our Stefen Rosner caught up with colleague Marco D’Amico, a beat reporter for Montreal Hockey Now who’s watched 22-year-old Alexander Romanov develop from his time in the KHL through this past NHL season.
“He’s very much a Lou [Lamoriello] kind of defenseman, in my opinion,” Marco D’Amico said. “Like he’s, he’s going to give you a lot of what he likes in his defenseman, that hard-hitting defensive style, but in a new age kind of way.”
One thing that will stand out right off the bat is Romanov’s skating.
“His skating is impeccable,” D’Amico said. “Like it’s the first thing that’s going to stand out to the Islander fans is that, boy he can move quickly. And what’s a shame, really, pretty much for the Montreal Canadians is the second half of the season, when Martin St. Louis came in and they opened up the games, he was far more efficient at moving the puck up the ice and transporting the puck because he has that ability. We’ve seen it at World Junior Championships.”
“He just wasn’t used in that role.”
But now, with the New York Islanders, Romanov can flourish because he will get the opportunity.
“With the Islanders now, you paid big time to get him. You’re going to use him, and so I think that there’s going to be a lot more emphasis on having him carry the puck, so, you know, we may talk about his defensive ability, but there may be even a transition aspect to his game that could be further leveraged.”
When Alexander Romanov became an Islander on the night of July 7, people wondered if the New York Islanders overpaid for the three-year NHLer. Romanov showed his physicality and skating, but there hadn’t been much offensive upside.
In 2021-22, Romanov notched just three goals with 10 assists in 79 games, in 20:24 minutes per game.
“You look at a guy like Romanov, and you’re going to kind of notice this a little bit, you’ll see it with other players, but he suffered a bit from being in Russia during his draft-eligible year, his post-draft year, and the year following,” D’Amico said. “And the reason I say this is because developing defenseman is not a forte in the KHL. They’re okay with forwards, but young defensemen, especially a league that carries eight defensemen, you don’t get much playing time.”
“And although he wasn’t able to get much playing time, the time he did get was mostly defensive missions.”
So that’s what Romanov got good at, and that’s how the Montreal Canadiens used him when he first came over in 2020.
“So when he came to the Montreal Canadiens, they kind of started him off like that and really kind of pushed him on the defensive side,” D’Amico said. “And so basically what you get from an Alexander Romanov, from a defensive standpoint, he’s extremely aggressive. And I wouldn’t want to be a right-winger coming down his side because he hits like a truck.”
“And it’s not like he’s a big guy. He’s like 5’10, 5’11, but the guy hits you like he’s 6’5, Like, it’s incredible.”
Here’s an example from the 2020 postseason as Alexander Romanov rocked the 6’2, 206 lb, Alex Pietrangelo:
“That’s what you have to look forward to,” D’Amico said.
Romanov recorded 227 hits (17th most) and 144 blocks (15th most) this past season.
You would not classify Romanov’s shot as elite, but it can still be a weapon.
“I think it’s a good shot. It’s a shot that gets through. And I think that’s what’s important, is that it’s not necessarily like Dobson, that’s going to score like 14, 15 goals. It’s a guy that’s gonna get a shot on net and maintain possession,” D’Amico said. “A guy like Romanov walks the blue line…that’s what you want.”
Speaking of Noah Dobson, we had a column not too long ago about why Romanov should play with Ryan Pulock, not the other 22-year-old.
In 2021-22, Romanov took 107 registered shots on goal. He missed the net 41 times, a number he surpassed (42) his rookie year in 25 fewer games. So it’s clear that Romanov put an emphasis on his decision-making.
If Romanov hits the net and takes smarter shots, why the lack of points?
“Well, first of all, he’s never used on the powerplay… and then you’re not using him in offensive situations. Most of his deployment was in defensive zone situations,” D’Amico said. “And, you know, Montreal didn’t score many goals last year and didn’t generate much offense.”
“So it goes to show you he has that ability. It just was the wrong team.”
In his first 42 games, Romanov had just two goals and five assists. In the games following St. Louis’s arrival, 35 games, Romanov recorded a goal and five assists.
Although the point totals did not differentiate a whole lot, Romanov played around 3:30 minutes more in the second half of the season (22:09), than he did in the first half (18:46).
Through 32 games from October to December, Romanov averaged 18:56 minutes played per game. From February to April, 38 games, Romanov averaged 22:04 minutes per game, as St. Louis used him in more situations.
And that growth throughout the season is likely why Lamoriello had confidence trading his first-round pick.
“If you’re looking for a guy that can get to the puck quick, maintain possession, get the puck back down low, or find another guy open in the slot, that’s Romanov. “Obviously, he’s not going to wow you with high offensive octane ability. It’s more safe, but smart play on all three zones.”
“It’s probably why Lou was interested in him in the first place because that’s you saw progress right before your eyes…”
This past season, Alexander Romanov won the Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy, awarded annually to the member of the Canadiens who played a dominant role during the regular season, without earning any particular honor. Members of the media vote on this award.
“I personally voted for him as a member of the media because the improvement was nice to see because it’s rare to see well-developed prospects in Montreal,” D’Amico said. “But to see him kind of take the next step and really two steps I would say within the season, going from a healthy scratch to playing 24 minutes a game. It was good to see so that there’s definitely progress to be made.”
“I think that the ceiling still remains, just your stellar second pair defenseman.”