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Alexander Romanov has yet to play an NHL game, but the 20-year-old was the main topic of conversation Tuesday as assistant coach Luke Richardson discussed the Canadians’ defence heading into what has become the 2021 season.
“I had a chance to see him play some games in the world juniors and he’s a real competitive player,” Richardson said during a video conference from his home in Ottawa. “We saw that in his first practice (in the postseason bubble in Toronto). He laid out a couple of guys and we weren’t expecting him to do this. He’s a no-apologies type of player.”
Romanov has spent the past two seasons playing in the KHL and has limited experience on the smaller North American ice surface, but Richardson said he expected the Russian to make a quick adjustment
“He’s very wide-eyed, always asking questions,” said Richardson. “He’s very active, he hits hard. He’s not afraid to get down and block shots and take a low pass away on two-on-ones. If he gets fooled once, he adjusts and learns very quickly.”
One question mark is Romanov’s offensive potential after he had no goals and seven assists in 43 games last season with CSKA Moscow. Romanov’s opportunities were limited in the KHL because he was planning to leave, but Richardson believes Romanov’s ability to move the puck and his booming shot will serve him well in the NHL.
Romanov, selected in the second round (38th overall) of the 2018 NHL Draft, isn’t the only newcomer on the Canadiens’ blue line. General manager Marc Bergevin added size and grit in September when he acquired Joel Edmundson from the Carolina Hurricanes.
“He’s a player I’ve admired,” Richardson said about the 27-year-old with five years of NHL experience. “He’s a strong defensive competitor who’ll fit in nicely with our group. The depth in our group is the impressive thing. In past years when we’ve had an injury, we weren’t in big trouble but we couldn’t maintain the same level.”
Romanov is pencilled in for a spot on the third pairing to start the season — whenever that might be — but Richardson said the team will be looking at different combinations, depending on chemistry and game situations.
Richardson said the coaching staff has an idea of where players may fit in different scenarios, but you have to see them in game situations to see how they actually fit. Richardson pointed to the experience last season of Ben Chiarot, who eventually found a good fit with Shea Weber.
“He took some time to see where he fit in with the way we play and the way we coach and how he communicates with his partners and goaltenders,” Richardson said about Chiarot. “It may take time for a little chemistry to form by experimenting a little bit, but we’ll find the best fit in every area of the game — five-on-five, penalty-killing and coming out of a power play.”
The Canadiens don’t have any right-handed defencemen behind Weber and Jeff Petry, but Richardson doesn’t see that as a problem. He said some defencemen are more comfortable and more effective on their off-side. Edmundson is a left-hand shot with experience playing on the right side and there are some right-handed prospects with NHL experience in Cale Fleury and Noah Juulsen, whose health problems appear to be behind him.
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