They say you should start like you mean to continue, and New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello put it all on the line at the 2022 NHL Draft, controversially trading the 13th overall pick to the Montreal Canadiens for 22-year-old defenseman Alexander Romanov. The trade was immediately met with mixed feelings among Islander fans, many of whom expected a higher profile defender to make their way to Long Island or were waiting with bated breath for a star winger. Whether you’re on one side or the other, there are signs Lamoriello isn’t done improving his roster.
Islanders Lamoriello Makes Big Splash
One of the media’s most used lines when speaking about Lamoriello is, “when you have time, use it.” And while that may be true – much to the chagrin of fans – eventually, time runs out. That’s exactly what happened at the 2022 NHL Draft on Thursday evening. Armed with the 13th overall pick, Lamoriello had a difficult choice to make. As I wrote prior to the draft, if Lamoriello felt he had a chance at a “hockey trade” (player-for-player) and/or the unrestricted free agent (UFA) market to improve his roster, he would use the pick. If the conversations elsewhere didn’t look promising or he didn’t like the players available at 13, he’d use it as an asset in a trade. In his own words, he came face to face with the latter.
No, Romanov isn’t Vince Dunn or even Devon Toews, who was traded to the Colorado Avalanche last summer in a transaction that many continue to agonize over – and rightfully so. A major difference, and perhaps a reason Lamoriello decided Romanov was worth the price he paid, is that he is just 22. So while he’s not Dunn (25) or Toews (28), perhaps he just hasn’t hit his stride yet. With the uncertainty that comes with first-round picks outside of, and including, the top-five, the Islanders more-or-less drafted a 22-year-old with a Stanley Cup run under his belt with room to grow.
The Athletic’s beat writer for the Islanders, Kevin Kurz, asked Lamoriello if it was easier to move the first-round selection for a player who is still young, and he responded:
“Without question. Without question [sic]. When you’ve already had a chance to see him … and whoever you’re going to pick (at No. 13), it’s going to be two or three years before (he plays in the NHL).”(From “Islanders get the second-pair D they wanted in trade for ‘still growing’ Alexander Romanov,” The Athletic, 7/7/2022)
He’s also a restricted free agent (RFA) who could fit nicely alongside fellow 22-year-old defender, Noah Dobson. Romanov’s job with the Islanders is simple – give Dobson room to do his thing and get the puck up the ice. Much was made about getting a more offensive defenseman, due in no small part to Lamoriello making mention of needing that type of player, but with Dobson in the fold, I often thought the ideal partner for him was someone who would give him the latitude and safety to thrive in his role as an offensive-defenseman.
Romanov, at least at this moment, appears to fill that role nicely with room to grow, as Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) teammate Bogdan Kiselevich mentioned in an interview with Sportsnet in January 2021. When asked what type of player Romanov was, Kiselevich responded, “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 said. “He will survive and end up becoming the best at it. He’s that kind of guy.”
And, with what Lamoriello mentioned immediately following the draft, it sounds like Romanov will start the season next to Dobson, barring any other trades.
Islanders’ Lamoriello Not Done Yet
It would be foolish to think Lamoriello hung up his phone and headed for the cottage after Day 1 of the NHL Draft. And while concerns over the type of moves he’ll make are valid (to a point), he mentioned himself that he’s not done trying to improve the defense.
Even with another addition to the blue line, what’s on everyone’s mind is how Lamoriello will improve the offense. Rumors swirled on Twitter during the first round of a trade involving J.T. Miller from the Vancouver Canucks was about to take place, but that quickly fizzled out, dashing the hopes of many. When asked, Lamoriello said “talk to Vancouver,” to which Canucks general manager Patrick Alvin responded, “There was definitely nothing going on (with the Islanders).” Lamoriello is known to put the kibosh on trades or moves if they’re leaked, and that’s the speculation around this as well, a sentiment which surely rubbed people the wrong way considering what Miller brings to the table.
Questions still remain as to whom Lamoriello may be looking at to improve the forward group, and if that will come via trade or free agency, but – to circle back to how we started this article – Lamoriello bought himself some time to figure things out and continue discussions with fellow GMs around the league.
Islanders Improve Offense with Romanov
That heading may be a bit misleading but stick with me. By using their first-round pick to get a defenseman, with the assumption that Lamoriello won’t add another, the Islanders have improved their offense by not using Anthony Beauvillier in a trade for one. To improve the offense, there does need to be some subtraction both in personnel and from the cap namely Josh Bailey (two years at $5 million AAV remaining) and Semyon Varlamov (one year left at $5 million AAV).
Keeping Beauvillier to, perhaps, skate alongside Mathew Barzal and a new, shiny star-winger, would keep the offense not just competitive, but pretty deep. It also gives Lamoriello one less item to cross off his list this summer; trading away Bailey and Beauvillier, even with adding a forward, would have left a bit of a question mark in the Islanders’ top-six and maybe even pushed someone up who wouldn’t have succeeded. Beauvillier hasn’t been consistent nor lived up to his full potential, but if there was any chance for him to take a huge step in the right direction, it’s by skating with two star players.
The Islanders joined the frenzy during a long first round of the 2022 NHL Draft, raising just as many questions as they did answers. But as Lamoriello has said, he isn’t done improving the roster, and he’ll have his work cut out for him over the next five days leading up to free agency on July 13.
Jon Zella is a 31-year-old, Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.