MONTREAL — The Islanders have a win-now roster, and president and general manager Lou Lamoriello chose immediate help over developing a first-round prospect at the NHL Draft on Thursday at Bell Centre.
Lamoriello traded the 13th overall pick to the Canadiens for puck-moving, hard-hitting defenseman Alexander Romanov, 22, and a fourth-round pick. The Islanders now have one selection each in rounds two, three, four, five and six on Friday afternoon, but this marks the third straight year they have not made a first-round pick.
“We had an opportunity to get a 22-year-old top-four defenseman,” Lamoriello said. “Tremendous character, tremendous competitiveness in him. We felt it was the right thing. We were looking for defensemen and we felt that, in the draft, the ones we were looking at would be gone. It was not really a tough decision. He’s growing. He’s got a lot in him, potentially, to get better.”
The Canadiens made wing Juraj Slafkovsky the first Slovakian to be selected first overall, and countryman Simon Nemec, a defenseman, went No. 2 to the Devils. Center Shane Wright, predicted to be the No. 1 pick, went fourth to the Kraken.
The left-shooting Romanov had three goals and 10 assists in 79 games last season. The Russian was picked 38th overall in 2018 and has four goals and 15 assists in 133 career NHL games. The smooth skater previously played two seasons in the KHL on the same team as goalie Ilya Sorokin.
Lamoriello classified Romanov as more of a defensive blueliner but said he showed he could be more of a point producer as a junior player.
“We’re more concerned with what the six [defensemen] look like rather than what the one looks like,” Lamoriello said.
The 6-1, 209-pound Romanov is a restricted free agent without arbitration rights coming off a three-year, $3.5 million entry-level deal. “Whenever we can get it done, we’ll get it done,” Lamoriello said.
Romanov currently is in Russia, but Canadiens GM Kent Hughes reportedly said recently that he is scheduled to return to North America next week.
“I can’t answer that,” Lamoriello said. “I haven’t even talked to [Romanov] yet.”
The Islanders, who missed the playoffs for the first time since 2018, struggled in exiting the defensive zone last season. Because of salary-cap reasons, Lamoriello traded puck-moving defensemen Devon Toews and Nick Leddy in the previous two offseasons.
The Islanders’ offseason to-do list will be far from completed at the draft’s conclusion, even after acquiring Romanov. The free-agent market opens Wednesday at noon, and the Islanders are about $12 million under the $82.5 million salary-cap ceiling.
“We’ll be as active as we can to make us better,” Lamoriello said. “But remember, it takes two to make a transaction. We all have a wish list. [We have] our thoughts where we’d like to get better and, if we can, we will. But we’re happy with our group. It’s obvious that we are.”
In a “perfect world,” he said he would like to add both an offensive-minded defenseman and a defensive blue-liner.
There’s no guarantee the Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau or the Predators’ Filip Forsberg, both impending unrestricted free agents, will become available rather than re-signing. But despite the high cost, Lamoriello likely would be interested in either playmaking top-line wing.
Before the draft formally began, children of Montrealers Mike Bossy and Guy Lafleur accompanied NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to the podium as the crowd chanted for the Hall of Famers, both of whom passed away in April. “My father’s dream was to play in the NHL,” Tanya Bossy said of the former Islanders star. “If he were here tonight, he would tell you to dream big. As big as you can.”
Notes & quotes: Within the organization, the Islanders are hoping some of their former draft picks can make an impact at the NHL level.
Top defense prospect Robin Salo, a second-round pick in 2017, had a goal and four assists in 21 games for the Islanders and four goals and 16 assists in 40 games for their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport in his first North American season.
Simon Holmstrom, the 23rd overall pick in 2019, made improvements to his two-way game last season. Aatu Raty, the Islanders’ highest pick in 2021 at No. 52, had a goal and three assists in six playoff games for Bridgeport after coming over from Finland.
William Dufour, a fifth-round pick in 2020 who signed a three-year, $2.775 million entry-level deal in April, was the tournament MVP with seven goals in leading Saint John to the 2022 Memorial Cup as the top Canadian junior team.