When it comes to Alexander Romanov, everyone involved with the Canadiens is going out of their way to talk about how good he’s going to be as soon as this season. I can’t help but wonder if they’ve gone a bit too much in that direction.
I’m not going to sit here and argue that his KHL usage over two seasons means a whole lot. Yes, he didn’t play much there but there is a lot of political elements to consider since Romanov wasn’t hiding the fact that he intended to come to North America. But at the same time, I also don’t feel comfortable citing his level of play at the World Juniors as proof that he’ll be above average in a hurry in the NHL. We’re talking 14 games played over two years. If that’s not a small sample size, I don’t know what is.
While Romanov has more offensive upside than he showed in Moscow, I don’t expect him to be a high-end point producer in the NHL; his 14 points at the World Juniors probably isn’t a good indicator of what’s to come either. He’s someone that coaches (or someone with a keen eye for the details) is going to appreciate more than the typical fan. He’s a play disruptor in the defensive end that can throw a big hit here and there but not someone that’s going to make you go ‘wow’ every night either.
Based on the comments from coaches and management, I think they’re inadvertently creating an expectation for that ‘wow’ factor. I don’t think it’s being done deliberately either, it’s just getting blown out of proportion a little bit. But hey, the pandemic has dragged on for quite a while now with hardly anything newsworthy coming from Montreal aside from one week in October. That makes any morsel that much more intriguing, especially when it’s contrary to what the Habs typically do in terms of trying to not create a sense of expectation for any incoming youngsters.
Here’s a question to ponder for a moment: What would constitute a successful season for Romanov?
For me, the answer is pretty straightforward – if he makes the team and holds down a regular top-six spot on the back end, that’s a successful season for him, even if he’s averaging 15 minutes a night on the third pairing.
You may have read that and think that’s a pretty low bar to clear but let’s remember that he’ll have just turned 21 when the season starts and has no North American experience under his belt. That transition can be tricky for any player to make but the learning curve for a defenceman is that much steeper. This isn’t a typical 82-game season either. The Canadiens are clearly in win-now mode and with no preseason and a shortened camp, the safe and smart play is to ease him in slowly. Not many prospects in that situation typically make the jump and play a regular role right away either so it’d be more of an accomplishment than you might think; it’s not as minimal as it may seemingly be.
Do I think that’s his ceiling? Of course not. I think Romanov can be a 20-minute (or more) player at some point in the future but that probably shouldn’t be the 2020-21 season. Before anointing him as Shea Weber’s eventual partner and the anchor of a homegrown left side of the back end with some combination of Kaiden Guhle, Mattias Norlinder, Jayden Struble, and Jordan Harris, let’s give him a chance to play in an NHL game or two first. Or better yet, 56 and hopefully a playoff round or two and then everyone can re-assess from there.
Despite how positive the Habs have been when it comes to speaking publicly about Romanov, they’re going to be patient with him. I know he’s an exciting prospect but I hope many fans do the same, even with the heightened expectation that the team has inadvertently placed on him with their comments. There’s nothing wrong with dialing down the hype machine a couple of notches.