The Tsar Has Arrived: Tempering Fans’ Expectation

The Montreal Canadiens surprised more than one when, with their second round selection and 38th overall pick, they called the name of Alexander Romanov back in the 2018 NHL Draft. Many raised an eyebrow, some laughed at the idea of picking him this high. That’s because most mock draft experts and wannabes had him much, much further down their list. When Trevor Timmins was asked about selecting this high up, he was surprised at the question because that’s where he was on their list. At the 2019 World Junior Championships, Romanov shut up all the doubters when he was named the tournament’s top defenseman by both the organizers and the media. After that, everyone saw what Timmins and his staff saw in him.

He’s ready. He’s excited. This will be his first chance at making an NHL team, a dream of his. The Tsar has arrived in Montreal and has completed his quarantine. The 20 year-old bruising defenseman is chomping at the bit at the idea of playing his first NHL game but first, he must make the big club.

Why the hype about this young man? Those looking at stats to make a judgment will be first to point out that he only managed seven assists, no goals in 43 games in the KHL last season. However, those who know how Russian teams work, know too well that this isn’t telling of the player, but rather a matter of KHL’s politics. If a player makes it known that he wants to leave for the NHL, Russian teams will pull every string to put sticks in his wheels. They do that in hope to convince him to stay, but also to punish him for wanting to leave. For most observers, Romanov deserved to play more.

Bubble experience

Alexander Romanov

Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin surprised many when he voluntarily burnt one year of Romanov’s entry level contract by signing him on time for the COVID Cup playoffs. By doing so, it allowed the team to bring him into the bubble to practice with the Canadiens even though the young Russian was not eligible to play.

Not only this experience went a long way in making Romanov feel more familiar with the team, but it allowed the coaching staff to have an early look at where the young man is at in his development. And it seems like Claude Julien has seen enough to go with a prediction. A few weeks ago, during a press conference, the Canadiens’ bench boss told reporters that he expects Romanov to be with the big club for the upcoming season.

Fan’s expectations

Then, there’s the fans. It seems like some are jumping the gun and have Romanov pencilled in as Shea Weber‘s defense partner already. But that’s nothing new. How many thought that Ryan Poehling would crack the Habs’ lineup after being named the best forwards at the World Juniors a couple of years ago? We’ve all read recent comments of fans putting Cole Caufield on the big club on the top-six, right? Not so fast…

Ben Chiarot will be Weber’s partner this upcoming season and they will be facing the opposition’s top lines. New comer Joel Edmundson will be paired with Jeff Petry, providing the team with a solid pairing. Julien will do with Romanov what he did with Jesperi Kotkaniemi. He will be sheltering his young defenseman, picking and choosing the matchups in order to build the rookie’s confidence. That’s how you develop young players, by not rushing them into too big of roles too soon.

The competition will be fierce for the last couple of spots on the Canadiens’ defense. Romanov will be competing with Victor Mete, Brett Kulak, Noah Juulsen, Cale Fleury, Josh Brook, Otto Leskinen and Gustav Olofsson for three spots. The future is bright for the Tsar and he will be a treat to watch for years to come in a Habs’ uniform, but he has his work cut out. Go Habs Go!

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