It is no secret that the Montreal Canadiens blue line is in desperate need of help on the left side. There is a serious lack of a defender who can eat up minutes playing reliably on a top pairing against the top forwards in the NHL. So, when Alexander Romanov began to grab the attention of Habs fans in the two years since his draft day, it’s no wonder they were salivating to have him sign with the Canadiens.
General manager Marc Bergevin finally delivered and signed Romanov on May 8, 2020, and fans rejoiced. With the league in a pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is uncertain when Romanov will begin his three-year, entry-level contract (ELC). If the season resumes now, his first year of his ELC will be burned off in the few remaining games. If the season is canceled, Romanov will begin his contract next season.
At the 2018 Draft in Dallas, selecting the 5-foot-11, 186-pound Romanov was seen as a reach by assistant general manager Trevor Timmins. Romanov was the 115th ranked European skater by NHL Central Scouting, however, he was selected in the second round at No. 38 overall.
In his draft year, Romanov played for Russia at the World Junior A Challenge held in Truro, Nova Scotia. Despite a fourth-place finish by Russia, Romanov left the tournament with four goals in as many games and demonstrated his style of play would be able to translate to the North American style enough to leave Timmins impressed. Timmins told reporters in Dallas after the draft,
Right there, you could see it was on the smaller ice in Truro, N.S., and he really stepped his game up and played really well there, with less time and space, he showed us that he could make quick decisions with the puck. And he plays physical. He does it all.Trevor Timmins (from ‘Alexander Romanov was a surprise pick by Canadiens at NHL Draft, Montreal Gazette, 06/28/2018)
Once drafted, it became imperative to develop Romanov to help solidify the Canadiens’ future blueline. His style of play has been described as a mix of physicality similar to that of former Canadiens defender Alexei Emelin and that of Habs legend, Andrei Markov.
Others have compared Romanov to former Detroit Red Wings Vladimir Konstantinov. Before his career was cut short in an automobile accident in 1997, Konstantinov was a physical two-way defender who played big minutes in all situations. The expectations from the Canadiens are that Romanov is going to develop into a solid two-way defender, they feel he is already NHL-ready and even have a nickname for him, “the Assassin.”
Since his draft, he has also raised expectations among the Canadiens fanbase. His performances in the last two World Junior Championships where he helped Russia win bronze and silver medals were outstanding. In the 2019 Championships, he had eight points in seven games and was named the tournament’s top defender. He followed that up in 2020 with six points in seven games while playing a key role as Russia’s top defenseman in all situations.
Related: The Story of My Russian KHL Odyssey
Playing against his peers on the smaller ice surfaces, Romanov was able to display his physicality, his mobility, his defensive acumen and his offensive skills. It’s not unheard of for KHL teams to dedicate less time and resources on younger players who are known to be going to North America, yet, for some fans, his play in the KHL for CSKA Moscow will still be an issue. While it is true that his ice time was limited, Romanov wasn’t able to produce much offence while playing professionally on the larger ice surfaces there.
For those who are concerned, his style of play is already better suited for the North American style game, making his transition a little easier. Defensively, he’s also seen as NHL-ready as Bergevin has already stated he could fill a third-pairing role with the team. Also, Romanov is very confident and clearly wanted to play in the NHL but knows he will need to earn his spot on the roster
I’m ready to play in the AHL. I’m ready to play in the NHL. I’m ready to play in North America.Alexander Romanov
As mentioned, Romanov arrives with much fanfare. There is also an expectation from management that in a few years he becomes a top-pair defender who eats minutes in all situations, which is exciting news for fans, however, even in Montreal, fans can sometimes be impatient.
Fans must temper expectations – it’s ok to be excited about Romanov’s arrival. But Habs fans need to be realistic – at 20 years old, he won’t be the solution to the left side. He will have flashes of brilliance, but he will also go through difficult periods. It will take time for him to reach his potential. Bergevin made that point in an interview with La Presse just after the trade deadline.
He’ll be a defenseman who, at 23, 24 years old, will give us 24, 25 minutes against the best opposing lines, the type of defenseman who we’ll put on the ice to protect a lead or play the last 30 seconds of a power play when you know the opposing team is coming with their big line.Marc Bergevin
The Canadiens may have discovered a draft gem thanks to Timmins, the scouting staff and the European Combines. However, it remains to be seen how Romanov will handle professional hockey in North America. If he does become the next Konstantinov, the solution to the top pair on the left side will have been solved internally. The problem for the Habs is the fact it may take the full three years of the ELC before that happens. That being said, fans can still enjoy watching a budding star fulfill his dream of playing in the NHL.
I have been a writer covering the NHL and the Montreal Canadiens for over 6 years. I am also currently a 27+ year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces