Alexander Romanov has an excellent chance to make an immediate impact with the Montreal Canadiens in the defenseman’s first season in North America.
“Obviously we have to let him have a chance to come in and earn that spot and prove it, but it’s there for him to do that,” Canadiens assistant coach Luke Richardson said. “We’ve evaluated players before and you’ve seen them come out of the World Juniors as stars and do very well in the NHL, so we’re expecting nothing less than that for Romanov.”
Richardson, a defenseman for 21 seasons in the NHL, said Romanov has “that electricity in his game.” The 20-year-old was named the best defenseman at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship after scoring eight points (one goal, seven assists) in seven games to help Russia finish third. He also scored six points (one goal, five assists) in seven games at the 2020 WJC and was named to the tournament all-star team to help Russia finish second.
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Romanov, a second-round pick (No. 38) in the 2018 NHL Draft, scored 11 points (one goal, 10 assists) and was plus-37 in 86 games for CSKA Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League the past two seasons.
“He’s a very excitable player, exciting to watch,” Richardson said. “He plays with the passion and excitement. That’s always fun and that’ll look really great on a Saturday night in Bell Centre.”
Romanov (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) got some experience with the Canadiens in Toronto, the Eastern Conference hub city, for the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after he agreed to a three-year, entry-level contract July 13. He practiced with the Canadiens but was ineligible to play during the postseason.
The NHL is targeting to begin this season Jan. 1, 2021. Romanov could start on Montreal’s third defense pair but might not need long to earn extra ice time.
“If he’s that good, he’ll be a second paring before you know it,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. “But I think we allow him to develop and gain some experience at a comfortable pace and allow him to showcase what he’s able to do.
“He’s a very confident individual. Who knows where he’s going to be once the season starts? This is a guy who can surprise a lot of people just because he’s got those attributes, but he’s also got the confidence to go with it, so he may be pushing a lot of people before you know it.”
Richardson said he hopes to use preseason games to experiment with where Romanov fits best and evaluate the Canadiens’ depth on defense. Montreal agreed to a four-year contract with Joel Edmundson on Sept. 16, four days after the 27-year-old was acquired in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes. His arrival, the maturation of Victor Mete, 22, and the presence of captain Shea Weber and Jeff Petry give the Canadiens options for how the defense pairs are structured.
“I think we need to kind of see it,” Richardson said. “It might just take a little time. A little bit of, not trial and error, but trials, like just little tests here and there, and seeing what works best. I think physically [Romanov] really does a great job with his stick and then his body at separating people from the puck, and I think that’s going to really help him get more ice time with whoever.
“We’re not worried about him physically against a big, strong line; not at all. I think he’ll be fine there. He’s going to surprise a lot of people physically and you’ll see that, I’m sure, early in the season when people that don’t know him so well will be on their [backsides] in our zone, which is a great thing for us.”