It was only less than four months ago that Nicolas Roy was on the other side.
Roy was on the Charlotte Checkers, the eventual Calder Cup champions in the AHL. Roy was dominant in the playoffs with 15 points (six goals, nine assists), en route to Charlotte defeating the Chicago Wolves in five games to win the title.
The Wolves are, of course, the AHL affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights. Roy is now a part of the Vegas organization after Vegas traded Erik Haula to the Carolina Hurricanes for Roy and a 2021 fifth-round pick on June 27.
“It’s been amazing,” Roy said. “I feel like it’s going better and better every day. I feel more comfortable here. Everybody here is amazing ... We’re just working hard and having a lot of fun. It was really surprising to me when I heard about the trade. I was really happy after a couple of hours. To join this team, this organization, I was really happy.”
Roy was considered to be a throw-in to the deal, but his play in preseason might prove otherwise. The 6-foot-4 center from Amos, Quebec has played in three of four exhibition games, primarily in a bottom-six role. He’s averaged a shade over 16 minutes a night with two points (one goal, one assist) and has been terrific in the faceoff department (54 percent, winning 20 of 37).
“Just show what I can do,” Roy said. “I’m a two-way center, good defensively. Just show my game and keep working at it and having fun. I’m a big guy. I love to protect the puck down low, go out on the forecheck and be physical. Those are all important things. I just want to show what I can do and have fun.”
Where Roy cracks the roster, should it happen, is at fourth-line center; one of the two positions in the bottom six coach Gerard Gallant has indicated is open for business. Roy’s competition is Tomas Nosek. Given Nosek’s history with the club and known ability to be a well-rounded penalty killer, that gives the Vegas veteran the edge.
Gallant said the fourth-line center role doesn’t need to be filled by someone with penalty killing ability, a void left by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare after signing with the Colorado Avalanche this summer. Gallant has experimented with William Carrier and Alex Tuch on the PK, and early results indicate that might actually work. Whether or not you want Tuch blocking shots in a shorthanded situation is up to you.
“We’ve got lots of guys that can kill penalties on our hockey team,” Gallant said. “You try and make different guys [kill penalties]. We’ll see what happens.”
If Gallant goes that route, that leaves the door open for Roy to make the final 23. It comes down to which version of Roy the Golden Knights get; if it’s the one who scored nearly a point per game in the Calder Cup Playoffs, it’s a no brainer. On a checking line with Carrier and Ryan Reaves, Roy’s gargantuan frame and desire to crash the net/be a net-front presence makes it enticing.
“We’ve got skill guys, but to have a guy who can play the game really well defensively, win faceoffs, kill penalties ... he’s an intelligent player, too. Good hockey sense,” Golden Knights president of hockey operations George McPhee said June 28 regarding Roy. “There may be even more upside there than people would anticipate, so we’ll see how this plays out, but we like him a lot.”
The two caveats that may hinder Roy are he’s 22 years old and has seven NHL games under his belt. It’s already becoming a process that one rookie, top prospect Cody Glass, may or may not make the roster; let alone throwing another rookie into the bottom six given the structure.
Plays like the two above and this one help. Roy makes the play on the puck and gives the Golden Knights another chance to generate offense. It allowed Vegas to make a line change and keep possession for another 35-40 seconds, setting up a good scoring opportunity for Patrick Brown.
If Roy doesn’t make the final roster, he’ll be a serviceable player for the Wolves and coach Rocky Thompson.
“He was one of Charlotte’s better players, without a doubt,” Thompson said. “He led their team in chances created when he played against us. He was in all situations; penalty kill, he was on their first-unit power play, he took important faceoffs. He was a good player. I thought he skated well. He was difficult for us. They were putting him on Cody [Glass] in the playoffs, really trying to nullify that line against Charlotte. I think there’s a ton of potential with Nicolas, and I was impressed when we played against him.”
Another factor in Roy making the final roster could come down to the health of Reaves. The Vegas forward skated for the first time Tuesday, in a non-contact sweater, since sustaining an off-ice injury before camp began. If Reaves can’t go for whatever reason, it opens the door for Roy to center a line with Carrier and Nosek.
Based off line rushes after Tuesday’s practice, Roy will center the fourth line with Carrier and former AHL teammate Brown.
The door is open for him.