Islanders need Alexander Romanov to grow in a hurry

New York Islanders v Montreal Canadiens
New York Islanders v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

The Islanders traded for defenseman Alexander Romanov because they have a need and see a ton of growth potential in the 22-year-old. Give Lou Lamoriello credit for making a trade for both the short-term and long-term, but for where the Islanders are as an organization, they need the 38th pick in the 2018 draft to take the next step in a hurry.

“We had an opportunity to get a 22-year-old top-four defenseman. Tremendous character, tremendous competitiveness,” Lamoriello said courtesy of The Athletic. “We played against him enough to feel that way and know him and recognize what he brought. And he’s growing. He’s got a lot (of room) to grow. He has a lot in him potentially to get better.”

Perhaps the recent accession of their own 22-year-old taken in the 2018 draft, Noah Dobson, gives the organization confidence that the flashes that made Romanov a Montreal fan-favorite can evolve and develop into a consistent Top-4 defenseman worthy of extended ice-time under Lane Lambert

Per Isles' statistician Eric Hornick,  Romanov has played 133 NHL games, most of any player selected in the 2nd round or later of the 2018 draft. (Only 10 first-rounders, one of whom is Noah Dobson, have played more games). 

Like Dobson, Romanov got a taste of high-leverage situations in his rookie season, being active for five playoff games during the Canadiens' magical run in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, including two games in the Final vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning. He scored a goal to break a 1-1 tie in the third period of Game 4, the Habs' lone win of the five-game series after previously being a healthy scratch the first three games. At 21 years, 180 days old he became the youngest defenseman in Canadiens history to score a goal in the Stanley Cup Final.

A lot of the immediate reaction following the trade was that the Islanders acquired the skilled-skating, puck-moving defenseman that they so desperately needed. But if Romanov has those attributes, they have yet to be on display regularly at the NHL level. “He’s more of a defensive defenseman, Lamoriello stated after the draft. "But in his junior years he put up points, but we’re more concerned with what the six looks like, rather than what one looks like.”

Zone entries and zone exits have not been his strength and like a lot of young defensemen, he’s been out of sorts at times, especially as Montreal stumbled out of the gate last season and never recovered. The encouraging news is that like much of the roster, his play improved greatly under new head coach Martin St. Louis

Take a look at these two charts from analytics guru @JFreshHockey. The first is from February 2022 and the next is at the end of the season. You can see the dramatic change in his advanced stats over the final two months of the year.

You'll be hard-pressed to find offensive highlights of Romanov outside of the Stanley Cup Final goal. In fact, it was a compilation of big hits that got social buzzing and what often sparked the Canadiens when there was a home crowd.

Romanov has already experienced a bit of trial by fire in Montreal.

In an insightful January 2021 SportsNet feature, Eric Engels quoted former CSKA Moscow teammate Bogdan Kiselevich as saying, "Romanov is the kind of guy that, if you just give him, he’ll take... Just put him into hell and wait about 10 games, and he’ll come out on top,” he says. “He will survive and end up becoming the best at it. He’s that kind of guy.”

The expectations should be measured with the Islanders, especially during the early part of the season as he gets accustomed to his new team. Playing with a back end that already has veterans Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, and Scott Mayfield to go along with Dobson, Romanov should not feel the same pressure to perform to sometimes unfair expectations that comes with playing in Montreal.

He won't need to go through hell with the Islanders, but whatever he needs to go through to reach the next level of his game, doing so quickly will be key for the Islanders to return to the post-season.