For the New York Islanders to return to the playoffs this season in a very competitive Eastern Conference, a number of players will need to take strides and build off their previous season. Among them is Alexander Romanov, the 23-year-old physical defenseman entering his second season with the Isles after being acquired for a 1st-round pick (13th overall) at the 2022 NHL Draft from the Montreal Canadiens.
Romanov's game was trending up toward the end of the regular season when he sustained an upper-body injury against the Tampa Bay Lightning in early April that knocked him out for the rest of the regular season and the first two games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He gutted out four games versus the Carolina Hurricanes but underwent shoulder surgery that was expected to result in him missing the start of training camp.
That didn't happen as Romanov joined his teammates on the opening day of camp, stating that he felt "100%" and was ready to go. On Saturday night's game against the New York Rangers, he proved that was the case, picking up where he left off last regular season, logging 21:06 TOI while skating alongside Ryan Pulock and leading the team with ten shot attempts.
“I thought he was really good,” head coach Lane Lambert said after Saturday's 5-3 win. “He had a great gap. He played hard. He moved the puck pretty well. He put pucks to the net. I thought just his energy alone was uplifting."
Romanov's reputation of big, momentum-changing, open-ice hits followed him from Montreal last season and was on display often during in his first season on Long Island. Perhaps the clearest sign that he feels like himself was how he delivered hits on the Rangers' Brennan Othmann early in the game and nailed Tyler Pitlick later in the second.
Romanov's game is maturing and his confidence is growing. If he's able to evolve his offensive game more this season, and use his skating ability to create space and generate plays on net, he'll further assert himself as a top-four defenseman in this league that can log heavy minutes.