Looking for positives during a miserable 2021-22 season for the Montreal Canadiens has been like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Alexander Romanov will put a smile on most anyone’s face, not only because of his upbeat personality and infectious enthusiasm, but also thanks to his much-improved play over the past six weeks.
Taking the Next Step
The 21-year-old defenseman, a second-round draft pick by the Habs in 2018, was saddled with big expectations when he signed his entry-level contract and made the move to Montreal from Russia. The transition has had its ups and downs, but his potential is on full display right now and it’s easy to see why the Canadiens are so high on him.
After watching most of Montreal’s magical playoff run from the press box this summer, Romanov struggled out of the gate this season which led to him being a healthy scratch for a game in early November. Since returning to the lineup he’s been a different, more confident player. The game seems to have slowed down for him. He’s making better decisions with the puck and playing more efficiently all while avoiding too many long shifts, something that has plagued him early on in his career.
“His game is really heading in the right direction as of late. He’s getting more comfortable with the puck, going back and retrieving them, making plays. He’s a physical guy and it’s good to see him using that strength,” Nick Suzuki said of his teammate.
Drawing Comparisons to Alexei Emelin
Romanov isn’t one to litter up the stat sheet although his ice time has increased recently as a reward for his string of steady performances. One of the reasons he gets noticed is because of his big, well-timed hits that energize his teammates and provide momentum. That’s exactly what fellow Russian defender Alexei Emelin did so effectively for many years with the Habs while playing alongside countryman Andrei Markov.
He’s made tough like him too. He doesn’t back down from anyone and is always ready to answer for his physical play. Against the Colorado Avalanche earlier this month, Romanov broke his nose following a heavy check along the boards on Cale Makar and didn’t miss a beat. He returned to the game with a full cage shortly after and was first on the ice for practice the next morning, as per usual.
If he continues progressing though, Romanov’s impact with the Canadiens will be even greater than the mark left by Emelin because his ceiling is higher. He’s a stronger skater with better vision and more offensive abilities.
Given the Habs’ unfortunate injury situation this season, Romanov has a golden opportunity to establish himself as a top-four defenseman and give his new boss Jeff Gorton plenty of reasons to make him an integral part of the team’s long-term plan.
Credit to Luke Richardson
Montreal’s player development has been rightfully criticized lately, but Romanov is on his way to becoming a success story that the organization can build on. His growth can be largely attributed to the assistant coach Luke Richardson who has established a great relationship with his young defenseman.
He often works with Romanov individually during practices, always keeping the mood light while teaching, an approach that has brought out the best in Romanov whose positive outlook and exemplary work ethic has never wavered despite his early struggles.
“He always talks with me, every single practice, every single day. He shows my mistakes or good moments and it’s really comfortable to work with him. He was a really strong defenseman when he played,” Romanov said of Richardson who enjoyed a prosperous NHL career that spanned 21 years and more than 1,000 games.
With injuries mounting, losses accumulating and more front-office changes on the horizon, the present is looking quite bleak, and the future is unclear for the Canadiens. Amid the turmoil, Romanov has continued to persevere and is showing signs of becoming the defenseman that the Habs projected him to be.
Melissa has been covering the Montreal Canadiens for The Hockey Writers since March of 2020. She is also THW’s Social Media Community Manager and a co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly show produced by THW. In 2006, she spearheaded the social media initiatives for Tennis Canada and Rogers Cup and was the primary person responsible for their upkeep for over 10 years. She has written articles for multiple tennis websites and interviewed the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. While her career in sports started in tennis, her first love has always been hockey. She has a journalism degree from Concordia University.