When the New York Islanders sent their 2022 first-round selection to the Montreal Canadiens, the return was 22-year-old defenseman Alexander Romanov. After two seasons in Montreal, the Russian defender quickly became known for his physical presence on the ice, and the New York Islanders and their fan base were excited to see him leveling players donning the blue and orange.
Through the first two games of the season, Alexander Romanov has six hits but has shown much more than just his ability to lay the body.
This biggest standout has been Romanov’s ability to get in the shooting lane, whether its at five-on-five player on the penalty kill, a penalty kill that is currently perfect on the young season, nine-for-nine.
“If you look at Alex, and his shot, blocking ability, and his courage to block shots, he’s always going to have a high number regardless of how much time they spend in their zone. And he’s on the penalty kill as well,” New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said Tuesday morning.
On the young season, Romanov has 14 blocks of the New York Islanders 45 (31%). His 14 blocks rank second in the NHL behind Montreal Canadiens defenseman David Savard, who has 23 through four games played.
If Romanov continues at this shot-blocking pace, he will have 28 through four games.
But the first-year New York Islander has more than just two tools in his toolbox. Some of his other skills have gone under the radar, while one has not been on display as of yet.
“Oh, well, I think it’s those little detail things that, you know, separate him from other players that don’t do those things,” Lambert shared. “And that’s where you get the good mix and the chemistry [with Dobson].”
Veteran defenseman Adam Pelech, who knows or thing or two about the defensive side of the puck, shared that Romanov’s game is more than just the physicality.
“I think I think he’s got a really well-rounded game,” veteran Adam Pelech said. “Everyone knows him for his physical play, you know, which is great. We all love it. But he’s big, fast, and strong. He can really move, and he’s pretty skilled, too. So I really think he was a huge addition for us, and we’ll just continue to see him grow.”
One of the skills that veteran forward Zach Parise believes has gone under the radar regarding Romanov is how much help he has been to the Islanders transition game.
“I think he makes a good breakout pass,” Parise said. “I don’t think that he gets recognized enough for, but I think he does a good job of breaking us out. And, I mean, he does have that physical presence where you gotta know where he is on the ice. He’s, he’s, he’s looking for a big head. But you know, undercover, he makes good plays with the puck.”
Romanov does have four giveaways on the season through two games, but that seems to be more of a chemistry issue with Noah Dobson and the forwards, particularly in the Islanders zone, which will correct itself as he gets a better understanding of where his teammates are on the ice as he learns the system.
He may play a scary game if you are the one that has to try to get around him, but he’s got some personality to him as well.
“I mean, [Romanov’s got] a great personality,” Zach Parise said. “[He’s] always happy, smiling, laughing. It’s great. For the little time it’s been, you’re starting to see a little personality come out, and yeah, really just a happy [and] fun guy.”
In his first few years in the NHL, Romanov was not a player that brought a tremendous amount of offense. Through his 134 career games with the Canadiens, the 22-year-old had scored just four goals with 15 assists.
Through the first two games of this season, Romanov has two shots on goal, both coming via the wrister. We have yet to see him wind up and let a puck rip, which is something that Noah Dobson believes is an underrated quality of his partner.
“I think he does everything really well,” Noah Dobson, his defensive partner, shared on Tuesday. “He handles the puck really well. He’s got a really hard shot, which hasn’t been talked about too much.”
“I’m sure you’ll see that soon enough.”
NYI Hockey Now caught up with Alexander Romanov after Tuesday’s practice to discuss how he felt about his game so far through two games and what areas of his game he’s worked on in a new system.
“Playing more physical, team playing more physical [game], harder, faster,” Romanov shared as a significant difference between the Canadiens and the Islanders. “I’ve learned to play in neutral zone, like some new structure here. And coaches want to just see me play my game, and I just want to improve it every single game.”
Lambert expressed that he has seen Romanov’s game grow so far through training camp and the regular season and just wants to see continued improvement.
“The biggest thing for him was just the change in how we play,” Lambert said. “And so we’re seeing progression in that every day.”
At 22 years old, Alexander Romanov is not close to being a finished product. He went from playing a defensive role on the bottom pairing in Montreal to being an integral piece on the New York Islanders’ second defense pairing, playing top minutes on the penalty kill and being relied upon in all three zones.
The more comfortable Romanov gets with his new teammates and system, the more we will see all his skills come to the forefront.