Canadiens rookie Alexander Romanov is living up to all the hype

Julian McKenzie
·NHL Writer
·5-min read

Alexander Romanov’s practice appearances have become a bit of a running joke.

The rookie defenceman is so frequently among the first or last to leave the ice at practice that local media has jokingly suggested he’s even disinfecting the benches before optional sessions.

Chalk it up to his love of the game.

“We’ve always known him to be that way,” said head coach Claude Julien. “From the day we drafted him, brought him here. Even when I say brought him here, I mean for development camps in the past years, you could see he was just a happy guy to be around (for) the organization to get on the ice.

“He’s shown a passion for this game, probably more than maybe the norm, if I can put it that way. But he just loves being out there. It’s just that he has fun, he has a smile on his face, and that’s probably one of the reasons he’s such a good player too.”

That smile. That damned smile.

There’s a lot to like about the Canadiens six games into the 2021 NHL season, including a 21-year-old rookie who the team has wasted no time integrating into the lineup since opening night.

His very first point was an outlet pass to Tomas Tatar in a rivalry match against the Toronto Maple Leafs, a game in which head coach Claude Julien, who has long shed the notion that he doesn’t trust young players, gave Romanov more than 21 minutes of ice time.

Five games later, Romanov continues to tread water in his maiden voyage in the league. That same eye for offence he showed in his debut has since resulted in him scoring his first NHL goal, earning time on the power play and playing the fourth-most minutes among Canadiens skaters.

Romanov’s puck-wielding skills have also come with a willingness to be physical against North Division opponents.

His poise and presence, meanwhile, has made him look more like a veteran than a player just cutting his teeth in the league, something that’s been noticed by his more seasoned teammates.

“I think he’s stepped in and played a big part,” said defenceman Jeff Petry. “If you were to throw him out there without a number on his back, or know who he is, you wouldn’t pinpoint him as a guy that’s only played six games in this league.”

Just over a year ago, Romanov showed promise but it remained to be seen what he’d be able to provide to the Canadiens. Partway through last season, general manager Marc Bergevin told the media there was a good chance the 38th overall draft choice from 2018 would be with the team the following year.

Unless you were heavy into the Kontinental Hockey League, it’s likely that you saw him for the first time at the 2020 world junior championship in the Czech Republic.

He helped the Russians to a silver medal at the tournament, losing to the future No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere and the Canadians in the gold-medal game while also being named to the All-Star team selected by the media. Months later, he joined the Canadiens in the playoff bubble in Toronto.

Canadiens rookie Alexander Romanov celebrates with teammates Jake Evans (left) and Brett Kulak (right) after scoring his first NHL goal against the Edmonton Oilers. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
Canadiens rookie Alexander Romanov celebrates with teammates Jake Evans (left) and Brett Kulak (right) after scoring his first NHL goal against the Edmonton Oilers. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

There are many positives the Canadiens can draw from being in the playoffs last summer despite having a less-than-ideal regular season prior to the shutdown, but having Romanov there to soak up that experience is a big one. He might not be having the success he is now, or feel as comfortable as he’s feeling now, had he only joined the team in training camp along with the other new acquisitions the Canadiens made during the offseason.

How else do you explain him saying stuff like this after a game?

“We’re playing like a team, we’re playing like a family,” Romanov said after a 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers — in which he scored his first NHL goal — more than 10 days ago.

As it stands today, in the extremely way-too-early Calder Trophy rankings, Romanov has a leg up on the much younger Lafreniere, who continues to adjust to the NHL game and his surroundings in New York. That’s something Romanov hasn’t had to work nearly as hard at just yet.

“He has a lot of the necessary tools to be a good defenceman in this league,” Petry said. “You watch practice, he’s one of the first guys on the ice and he’s always putting in the work and the time.”

If he keeps this up, Romanov should have no problem making a positive impact in his debut season. And that’s sure to bring a smile to the faces of fans, his teammates and the organization as a whole.

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