At the 2022 NHL Draft, New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello traded the 13th overall pick for a player he felt could make a difference far sooner than any first-round pick could do. By acquiring a hard-hitting defenseman Alexander Romanov, from the Montreal Canadiens, Lamoriello solidified his defense. The then 22-year-old known immediately provided the Islanders a level of youth and physicality it had been missing in recent seasons.
Outside of trading Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche for two second-round picks due to cap constraints (it still hurts!) Lou has chosen to extend his defensive core, including signing Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, and Scott Mayfield to very long-term contracts over the last two off-seasons. Time will tell whether Noah Dobson and Romanov get the same treatment, but if things go according to Lamoriello's plan, the Islanders' defense will be intact for years to come.
It was unfortunate that Romanov suffered an upper-body injury in the final weeks of the regular season after watching how he settled in and matured during the second half of the year. He returned during the playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes, but while he showed toughness in getting back on the ice, it was clear he wasn't able to play his style fully.
When watching him throughout the year, you can tell he is a throwback defenseman who brings a physical presence this organization has been missing since the first few seasons of Johnny Boychuk's time on Long Island. Even as a young player Romanov has shown an ability to pick his spots responsibly. Check out the below video from the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs back in November. Watch how Romanov uses his body to take players off of the puck, break up plays and stunt offensive chances. It's impressive.
.While +/- is a debatable stat Romanov had a higher +/- than Pulock, Dobson, and Mayfield. Even though his physical play generates the most attention, he's an above-average skater, for a defenseman may have more to contribute offensively after a career-high 22-point season. If he and Dobson can continue to improve in the areas where they have weaknesses, the pair have a chance to complement each other for the foreseeable future.
Romanov certainly had his growing pains this past season. I think it is important to keep in mind this is a 23-year-old defenseman and that he still has more than one season to meet the ever-important 300-game threshold. In his final season in Montreal, he had to work things out on the fly as the team struggled in made a coaching change. This past season, he had to learn how to play within a new, more structured system, and it led to inconsistencies early on, which was somewhat expected.
As with many young players, Romanov went through streaky stretches that saw his ice time fluctuate from month-to-month. After averaging over 20 minutes a game in October, including three strong games against the Rangers, Hurricanes, and Avalanche to the end of the month, his TOI dipped in November as he struggled with his consistency.
After Romanov and the entire team struggled in January, his play started to turn in February and hit its stride in March. On a team that has had minimal turnover this off-season, Romanov's game picking up from where it was toward the end of last season is another way the Islanders can be better next season while maintaining much of the same roster.