The New York Islanders possessed the 13th overall pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. Instead of selecting a prospect, the rumors of trading the pick ultimately came true as general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello made another splash in an already busy offseason.
The Islanders acquired defenseman Alexander Romanov from the Montreal Canadiens for that 13th pick. The move was part of a blockbuster trade that would allow the Canadiens to subsequently acquire Kirby Dach from the Chicago Blackhawks but also gave the Islanders a proven defenseman.
The Islanders’ defense was a strength last year, allowing only 2.82 goals per game, seventh-best in the NHL. However, the defense needed to improve as the unit looked slow and struggled to carry the puck out of the defensive zone. The defense needed an upgrade, and Lamoriello made sure to do just that. But acquiring Romanov says a lot more about both the draft and the offseason ahead for the Islanders.
What Acquiring Romanov Implies from the Draft
The Islanders looked poised to select a defenseman in the first two rounds. However, the willingness to move the 13th selection implies that Lamoriello didn’t like any of the defensemen at the top of the class. This is saying a lot, considering some of the top defensemen included Kevin Korchinski, Denton Mateychuk, and Pavel Mintyukov, all of whom possess great two-way defensive play and puck-handling skills.
Granted, Korchinski was selected seventh overall by the Blackhawks, while Mateychuk was drafted with the 12th pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets. While the Islanders wouldn’t have been able to draft either at the 13th selection, they still could have waited for Mintyukov, who would have been a great selection.
The big problem for Lamoriello is that all the team’s defensive prospects have weaknesses, especially on the defensive end of the ice, and need time to develop to refine their defensive game and will spend at least a season, if not more, in the American Hockey League (AHL). He also didn’t love any of the prospects in the draft and, more importantly, wasn’t going to wait to upgrade his defense. Instead, the move for a proven NHL player was made, and Romanov offers instant help to first-year head coach Lane Lambert.
What Romanov Brings to the Islanders
The Canadiens finished with the worst record in the NHL last season, but Romanov was a staple in the lineup, playing 79 of the 82 games and winning the Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy in the process. His 2.6 defensive point shares, 144 blocked shots, and 227 hits led the team as he stepped up and was a hard hitter who could remove forwards from the puck. He still needs to work on his offensive production, scoring only three goals and 10 assists last year and only four goals and 15 assists in his career. However, he is a great skater who can handle the puck and help out the offense on the rush, and his energy leaves room for offensive improvement.
Moreover, as a great skating defenseman, Romanov is the ideal pairing for Noah Dobson, who is the best young defenseman on the Islanders. Romanov plays the left side and, at 22 years old, is another young skater who can impact the team’s blue line for years to come. Dobson just completed a breakout season, scoring 13 goals and 38 assists while turning defense into instant scoring chances, and he needed another young skater that could elevate his game.
The Islanders might not have acquired Jakob Chychrun, but they still filled the need. Romanov is a valuable addition that helps round out the defensive unit and gives the team a young, speed skating pairing. Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech are one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL, but now the Islanders have added to an already strong defense.
Romanov Hints At Win-Now Mode
Romanov should be a great pairing for Dobson not just for this season but for years to come.
The Islanders missed the playoffs last year and are looking to bounce back in a big way. Lamoriello is looking to win the Stanley Cup after back-to-back Semifinal appearances in 2020 and 2021. Romanov adds a much-needed youth presence to the starting roster and hints at the win-now mentality that will shape this offseason.
Romanov also has playoff experience. The Canadiens reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2021, carried by great defense and world-class goaltending from Carey Price, ultimately losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games. While Romanov played a limited role, averaging only 12:24 ice time during that playoff run, he helped secure the lower pairings and saw firsthand what it takes to advance in the playoffs.
What Comes Next For Lamoriello
The move for Romanov, first and foremost, helps the defense, particularly the left side. However, the trade also hints that Lamoriello isn’t going to make a blockbuster deal for Chychrun or a defenseman of his caliber. Instead, he will improve the roster if the price is reasonable, costing the team only the 13th overall pick for Romanov.
The Islanders entered the draft hoping to improve both their offense and defense. By the end of the first round, they had added a proven defenseman who can help the team immediately. New York still has the 65th overall pick and will likely select a forward, but Lamoriello can shift his focus to the forward unit in free agency as well.
After firing head coach Barry Trotz and promoting assistant coach Lambert behind the bench, Lamoriello made another big move that ultimately helps the team. The busy offseason will only continue as management looks to make a big signing in free agency – hopefully, Johnny Gaudreau – to put the offense over the top. The first round of the draft was just a continuation.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.