The trajectory of two QMJHL franchises shifted significantly when the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles selected Nicolas Roy first overall in the 2013 QMJHL Entry Draft.
Roy, then a lanky 16 year old with high-end skill from Amos, QC, had already made it known to the organization that he would not play in the small Nova Scotia town. Speaking English wasn’t the issue, but learning via correspondence rather than in a classroom setting with other native French speakers was a problem for Roy and his parents, both of whom are teachers.
“There, it’s correspondence, by computer and not in class,” said Roy prior to a playoff meeting with the Moncton Wildcats. “They told me they were going to draft me. I said ‘No,’ but they still draft me.”
Even knowing he would not report to camp in August, it’s not hard to see why the Screaming Eagles took a chance on Roy anyhow. Prior to the draft, he was regarded as an elite offensive talent, who, with his size, could come in and play top-six minutes in a league dominated by 19- and 20-year-olds. The Screaming Eagles, having selected him, had months to change his tune. The worst case scenario was a trade, one that has subsequently bettered both organizations – Cape Breton and the Chicoutimi Sagueneens.
Cape Breton general manager Marc-Andre Dumont set the asking price high and, in the end, received a king’s ransom, acquiring defenseman Loik Levielle (2015), 2015 and 2016 first-round picks and a pair of other draft picks.
Roy is quick to admit he has heard some audible “boo’s” in his trips to Cape Breton since the trade, but the hometown cheers in Chicoutimi make things a lot easier. In his rookie year in 2013-14, Roy wasn’t exactly the world-beater some might have expected, but the skilled pivot recorded 41 points in 63 games, tying him for third on the team in scoring with Charles Hudon (MTL).
The pressures of being a first overall pick alone can be daunting enough; being traded for a package of three first round picks does anything but ease the pressure and expectations, but Roy did his best to avoid outside influences in his rookie season.
“You think about it, but it’s not really your fault,” he said of the trade. “Chicoutimi wanted me and it’s out of your hands. You try not to think about it, but it’s always in your mind.”
This season, expectations were again raised, and while Roy didn’t have the breakout offensive season most imagined, he posted a respectable 50 points in 68 games, playing as a second-line center on a team that just barely qualified for the playoffs.
Yanick Jean, head coach and general manager of the Sagueneens, didn’t arrive in Chicoutimi until December, but was familiar with Roy as a player beforehand.
“Before December, it was tough; after that, I’ve seen a big, big progression (and) a huge will and desire to get better,” Jean said of Roy.
Roy agreed with Jean’s assessment and so does a quick look at his 2014-15 season game-by-game. In the first three months of the season, Roy scored just five goals and added nine assists in 27 games. From December onward, the now 6’4”-and-growing forward registered 36 points in 39 games, as well as five points in five playoff games before his Sagueneens bowed out to the Moncton Wildcats.
Even when he wasn’t producing much offensively, Roy was still noticeable on the ice and not just for his size; he was often used on the penalty kill by Jean, and, along with Laurent Dauphin (ARZ), Roy posted a winning face-off percentage of over 50 per cent – 53.1 to be exact.
“For sure, we try to work on it in practices,” Roy said of both he and Dauphin’s face-off proficiency. “It’s something that’s really important.”
A high face-off percentage can often be the difference between a third- or fourth-line NHL center and a first- or second-line AHL pivot, and Roy already understands that. His size gives him an added advantage in reaching the NHL, but simply being big isn’t enough. Getting the most out of his size is something he is just beginning to learn, said Jean.
“He never had to. He was always bigger than everybody else, always stronger. But now – and at the next level – he is having to use his size more. He’s improving and working on it.
“He had to change his style,” Jean added. “All of his life he was a skilled player, but he’s more than that. He’s a two-way player, a guy that can grind – a guy that can be a third- or second-line player in the NHL.”
Roy is ranked as the 45th-best North American skater in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings for the 2015 NHL Draft, and he also dressed in the mid-season BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. Wearing an ‘A’ on his jersey, Roy recorded an assist and was a +1 in a 6-0 win for Team Orr. The experience opened his eyes to the amount of talent in Canadian junior hockey and has helped prepare him for what should be a work-intensive offseason.
“That was a very nice game, playing with the best players in Canada; it was really fun,” said Roy.
His goal this summer, much like most young players, is to get stronger, particularly in his legs so he can become more explosive with his first few strides – “I have a lot to work on; I need to be bigger and stronger,” he said. Of course, that goal is secondary to being selected by an NHL team in this June’s draft, but that should be a given considering his pedigree and physical traits. And with two year’s of junior hockey eligibility left, the sky is the limit as to what type of player Roy will develop into.
Jean, for one, has high hopes.
“It’s good to have a first-line center that can play against anybody,” the first-year coach said. “He can play against any good defensemen on the other side with his size as well; he’s going to be a huge factor down the line for our organization.”
Follow Chris Roberts on Twitter via @ChrisRoberts_7