In 2018, a certain Russian defenceman was drafted and just missed out on the Top 25 Under 25 as he placed 26th. However, last year he jumped up to the ninth spot in the list as he had played with the Russian juggernaut CSKA for the full season, as well as dominating in the World Junior Championships and earning an All-Star selection together with the ‘Best Defender’ award.
This year, Alexander Romanov jumps up to the number-four spot after another impressive year in the KHL, and being voted into the World Junior Championship All-Star Team once more (though not repeating as the tournament’s best defenceman).
He hails from hockey royalty. His maternal grandfather is Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, who has an Olympic gold medal as well as a Canada Cup win on his long list of achievements, together with three Gagarin Cups as a coach. Combine that with his father, Stanislav Romanov, who played 11 years in the Russian top division for teams like CSKA, Dynamo Moscow, and Sibir. It’s something that has made it easier to get his opportunities in the Russian hockey community, however, every time a question has been asked, Romanov has answered it with panache. CSKA even held him back at times trying to say he isn’t ready for the inevitable: the move to Montreal to play in the NHL.
What makes him so impressive is all down to his skating; his power, edgework, and technique are all top-notch. This lets him use his power the right way, and thanks to good balance and core muscles, he can deliver hits with ease, both on offence and defence.
Few prospects have been as hailed like Romanov has before they have even played a game in the NHL. Fans and media who were left scratching their heads on draft day are now excited about the newest addition to the Montreal blue line.
Romanov is the first consensus top-five players on this year’s list. He received one number-one vote, but the majority of the votes are fours. The community along with three others have him at three.
Top 25 Under 25 History
|2018: #26||2019: #9|
Romanov was an unknown quantity in 2018, and none of of us knew what to think of the new prospect. A year later, it was clear the scouting staff knew exactly what it was doing when it made the 38th selection.
History of #4
It all builds from the feet up. His skating technique is almost perfect in form, and strong legs make him an impressive athlete. He is fast and agile, skating with a low centre of gravity, and his strong core adds another level to his physical play. He isn’t afraid to play physically even though he stands just under six feet tall.
Having grown up around hockey, and with a lineage to one of the best coaches in KHL history, it’s no surprise that his hockey IQ is high — very high even. He shows it partly by how often he checks his shoulders, but also in the way he knows what to do with the puck even before he gets it. He identifies threats and opportunities alike, and his stick-handling is really good.
What has been added is the leadership qualities that he showed in the World Junior Championship, where he was a leader on a Russian team that finished as the runner-up at the 2020 event.
He seems to have calmed down somewhat, but the agitator is still there. He still uses his stick a lot for small crosschecks, and I would like to see that disappear. It could be that he feels small on the ice when he lines up against bigger opponents. It speaks to his skill and speed that he rarely slashes or hooks his opponents while chasing, always having the puck in front of himself so there is no need for that type of recovery.
The offensive output is one of the things many speak about, but before looking at those numbers you have to realise that CSKA is a system team under Igor Nikitin that plays a defence-first style. Then you have players that have “earned” the right to call their own shift, especially on the power play where most of a defenceman’s production usually comes.
For him to produce in the future, much will depend on the role he gets with the team, but it seems that power-play time could be limited with the Canadiens, too. He has shown that he can create offence when he plays against players his own age, the question remains if he can do it when he is playing in the top hockey league in the world.
Romanov has already been given a number (#27) by the Canadiens. He is in Montreal to play, and he will play. While he might be used sparingly to start, I am confident that he will challenge for a bigger role within a month. His game is that mature, and his versatility is so strong that you can pair him with anyone, and he will still perform well.
I wrote last year that he could have played in the NHL already. The added season in the KHL, along with the rigorous training regimen that CSKA is known for, will have made him even better.
The fact that he spent time with the Canadiens in the playoff bubble practising and getting to know players and staff means that he should gel with the team easily, and that should benefit his performance on the ice.
In order to prepare himself in the best way possible for the NHL, he has spent the time after the NHL playoffs practising with Mikhail Sergachev and Dmitry Orlov. Marc Bergevin has always hailed character as an important attribute, and as this shows, that is something Romanov has by the bucketful.
Montreal has always cherished skilled Russian players, players such as Tretiak, Kharmalov and most recently Andrei Markov. The next Russian will soon stand in the dressing room raring to go. The fans and the team will love him, and I have no doubt in my mind that he will be a cornerstone of the franchise for quite some time.
We were joined by our favourite guest on the pod, Miss Gillian Kemmerer and spoke about Alexander Romanov, his past and his future. You can listen to it below, or in your regular podcast provider: