His new Islanders teammates are still getting to know Alexander Romanov, though the 22-year-old defenseman’s skating ability, physicality and infectious personality did make an impression both as an opponent and over the past few weeks during informal skates.
But with Thursday’s first on-ice sessions of training camp at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow, the Islanders finally will start to see how Romanov, acquired from the Canadiens for the 13th overall pick in this summer's draft, may impact and improve the group.
Training camp opened on Wednesday with veterans reporting for physicals.
“He’s one of the first guys there every morning and the last guys to leave,” captain Anders Lee said. “His work ethic is showing already. I know how excited he is to get going. We’re seeing some pretty good glimpses of him on the ice with some of the short stuff we’re doing right now. I’m looking forward to seeing him in our uniform.”
The 6-1, 209-pound Russian is entering his third NHL season following two in the KHL, where he was CSKA Moscow teammates with Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin. He had three goals, 10 assists and 53 penalty minutes in 79 games for the Canadiens last season.
Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello acquired him because of his skating ability and penchant for moving the puck out of the defensive zone, something the Islanders have missed since trading away Devon Toews and Nick Leddy for salary-cap reasons the previous two offseasons.
“He’s a physical player,” new coach Lane Lambert said. “He’s solid defensively and he can skate well. He adds an element of mobility for us that I think will be beneficial. He’s got the youthful exuberance. He’s still in his growth years, so that’s up to us to continue to help him.”
Romanov, who agreed to a three-year, $7.5 million extension as a restricted free agent in August, gained just as much notice in Montreal for his hard checks.
That won’t go away. But Romanov said he worked on his puck-handling this offseason and wants to improve his offensive production.
“I want to play more in the offensive zone,” Romanov said in August. “I want to bring something more to the offensive game.”
“From the past few weeks spending time here skating with him, being with him every day, I’m extremely impressed,” defenseman Adam Pelech said. “I think he’ll be a great addition to the back end. I want to see him get in real game action because he’s great out there. I know he brings that physical edge which I think we’re all anxious to see. He’s an extremely skilled player. Super mobile. Big, strong, fast and he’s got a ton of skill. Huge addition to our blue line and we’re all thrilled to have him.”
Exactly how Lambert employs Romanov will be one of the main training camp what-to-watch-fors.
If Lambert keeps Pelech together with Ryan Pulock as a top pair, the left-shooting Romanov could be teamed with emerging star Noah Dobson, a righthander who had 13 goals and 38 assists in 80 games last season and is also 22. If Lambert breaks up the Pelech-Pulock pairing, Romanov could also be used with either Pulock or Scott Mayfield, both righthanded shooters.
Mostly likely, Lambert will try Romanov with all three righties.
“We’re going to try different combinations and see what happens,” Lambert said. “If that pair [with Dobson] works well and the chemistry is there, certainly I’d feel comfortable with it. But we’ll find that out over the next three weeks, a month.”
Notes & quotes: The Islanders announced one-year deals for goalie Cory Schneider, forward Nikita Soshnikov and defenseman Parker Wotherspoon. All will likely play for their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.