2009 prospects: Olivier Roy

By Kevin Forbes

First, the answer to the obvious question: No, there is no relation. It has to be hard enough to be a young goaltender like Olivier Roy chasing your NHL dreams and being considered one of the top goaltenders eligible for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. It is likely even harder when your surname just so happens to be the same as one of the top goaltenders of all time.

With that said, Roy should soon be part of the larger NHL family. His QMJHL squad, Cape Breton, has always built its teams from the net out. Former Cape Breton goaltenders like Marc-Andre Fleury, Ondrej Pavelec and Martin Houle have all gone from strapping on the pads at the Centre 200 to stepping onto the ice in an NHL game. At 17 years of age and already having finished his second year as the starting goaltender for Cape Breton, Roy is aiming to be the next to journey from the Screaming Eagles to the spotlights of the NHL.

Roy’s rise to fame actually had a bit of an auspicious start. After Pavelec turned pro in the summer of 2007, the Screaming Eagles were faced with the daunting task of starting the 2007-08 season with two rookies between the pipes: 18-year-old Import selection Marek Benda and a 16-year-old Roy. With Benda taking the reins as the starting netminder, Roy was expected to play sparsely and pay his dues.

Fate had other ideas and just six games into the season, Benda went down with injury. By the time he returned a month later, the fresh-faced rookie at the end of the bench had stolen Benda’s starting job and showed no inclination of giving it back. After all, while Benda was on the mend, all Roy did was set the fourth longest shutout streak in QMJHL history, win the league’s defensive player of the week and rookie of the month awards and posted a 9-3 record.

As Cape Breton’s GM/Coach Mario Durocher explained, "Benda came and he was our No. 1 at the beginning of the season and then he got hurt and that was where Olivier took over between the pipes. And he did very well, he took the place and he jumped up a spot. At Christmas time, Marek came back and the spot was filled by Olivier. He had a lot of ice time and he did very well during the playoffs. So we were a little worried at the beginning but at Christmas time, we didn’t even think about making a move to get a goalie, as we had two young goalies and they played pretty well."

The rest of Roy’s rookie season was just as impressive, with the young goaltender setting league records for wins by a 16-year-old (with 27) and shutouts by a rookie (with 4) and Cape Breton finished the year fourth in the Eastern  Division. He raised his game to another level in the playoffs, leading the Eagles to the second round with a 5-6 record and a 2.55 goals-against-average to go along with a single shutout and a .914 save percentage.

When the QMJHL handed out their annual awards in 2008, Roy hauled in the hardware, being named Defensive Rookie of the Year, Rookie of the Year and also earning a spot on the QMJHL’s All-Rookie Team. He also was named to the CHL’s All Rookie Team. Durocher was quick to point out that Roy deserved every honor afforded to him.

"The organization was confident with him, but he earned everything he’s got, because at the beginning of last season he was 16 years old, and should be the backup to Marek and when he did have the chance to jump in, he did what he had to do."

An athletic goaltender, Roy plays a somewhat rare hybrid approach that couples the butterfly with a more upright stance. This allows Roy to move quickly to the top of the crease to challenge shooters, something Durocher points to as being one of Roy’s strongest assets.

"He’s a goalie who likes to challenge; he’s a little bit cocky," Durocher said. "When he’s challenging, he has really quick legs and he fights for the puck, He battles a lot for the save, to make the first save and the second save, he’s moving a lot and he’s fighting to get that."

In fact, Durocher draws comparisons between Roy and a former Cape Breton goaltender who has found success in the NHL, saying "He’s a warrior, and he reminds a bit of Marc-Andre Fleury. He’s got quick legs and he likes to challenge well out of his net. He practices really hard and that’s why he’s so successful."

Perhaps the only noticeable weakness across the board in his skill set is his need to improve his puck-handling. Although goaltenders moving the puck are a relatively new desire for teams, Roy’s shortcomings in that area will need to be improved as he advances.

Though often overlooked, the mental makeup of a goaltender, especially one as young as Roy, is just as important, if not more so, than their on-ice skills. Durocher describes Roy as a shy kid off the ice, who approaches the game with a maturity beyond his years.

"He’s pretty serious before the game in his preparation, just talks with our goalie coach and the other goalie and watches video about his mistakes and things like that," Durocher said. "He’s a pretty serious guy about the game."

With that said, Durocher and his staff has worked with Roy to make sure he can keep his focus, or his "bubble" as his coach calls it, throughout the game, regardless of what happens around him.

"He has to find his bubble after letting in a bad goal; it’s not really his fault, like if it’s a deflection or something like that or if a player jumps in the crease and jostles him a bit. Sometimes he can get out of his bubble a bit, his concentration, his focus but again he’s young. A young goalie so he still has to work on that."

After a rookie year of so much promise and acclaim, some expected a similar leap forward in development from Roy’s first year into his second. Roy responded by posting only modest improvements on his previous season’s numbers. His save percentage rose from .896 to .906, his goals-against-average dropped from 2.87 to 2.80 and his record improved from 27-15 to 35-13 as the Eagles finished second in the newly-formed Atlantic Division.

Roy was saving his best for the post-season once again as for the second year in a row he led his squad to the second round of the QMJHL playoffs. Ultimately bowing out to the Quebec Remparts in a seven-game battle, perhaps Roy’s most impressive performance was Game 1 of the Quebec series. The second longest game in QMJHL history at over 132 minutes, Roy stopped 65 of 67 shots to preserve the 3-2 win for Cape Breton. All together, he finished with a record of 7-4, 2.43 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.

Roy’s high level of play has not gone unnoticed and in the summer of 2008, Roy was selected to attend Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence goaltending camp. The Quebec native could challenge for a spot on Canada’s World Junior squad as early as next year.

Perceptive of the pressures placed on draft-eligible players, Durocher and his staff have tried their best to keep their young netminder focused on stopping pucks and not on the upcoming draft. As Durocher explained, "he knew he was under a lot of pressure. He’s got a big expectation because of last year, so this year he’s got everything to lose. Every game there’s a lot of scouts coming to see him. That’s a lot of pressure on his shoulders and we try as a coaching staff to say, ‘Just go out there. Have fun and go on the ice and stop pucks.’ As for the rest, he has no say on where’s he going to go and to who, so he can just work on what he can deal with and what he can make a difference. Who’s going to draft you? Where you’re going to be drafted? What range? He cannot do anything, there’s not anything he can do. The only thing he can do is go on the ice and stop pucks. Just keep having fun and do that and you’ll be alright."

Durocher believes Roy would be best served by returning to the Screaming Eagles next season, regardless of what happens at the draft. The coach notes, "he’s got all the tools but he still needs to play junior at least another year, 18/19 should be a really big year for him, but I think to bring a goalie at 18 or 19 into the NHL is a mistake and they have so many examples of that. I think he should have a good junior career, and then get ready for American Hockey League or pro right away if he’s good enough in his overage year."

The question of readiness led Durocher to once again bring up former Cape Breton netminder Fleury, although this time not as complimentary.

"Just take it slow with goalies," says Durocher, "there’s a lot of goalies, Marc Andre Fleury struggled in his first year, underage year. There’s a lot of rush. It’s another world in the pro and it’s an adult world. You have to live your teenager life with your buddies the same age and things like that. It is fine that their dreams are to get to the NHL; they are going to get there. There’s some steps in your life that you have to learn and I think a guy like Olivier, he comes from Amqui. It’s a small town northeast of Quebec. So when he comes to Cape Breton, it’s a good transition for him into the bigger world."

Regardless of how long it will take before Roy is making an impact in professional hockey, he should have a bright future. The young goaltender will be worth the wait for whichever team selects him in June.