Derek Roy says he could have signed a professional tryout contract with another NHL team, but chose the Washington Capitals as his potential employer for one shiny reason.
“I just felt it was a good spot for me,” Roy, a 32-year-old free-agent center, said Tuesday after his first day on the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “I’m towards the end of my career and I want to win the Stanley Cup. And to win the Stanley Cup you’ve got to crack the lineup on a good team. It’s a test for me and I’m going to work as hard as I can.”
With center Nicklas Backstrom (hip surgery) questionable for the Caps’ Oct. 10 season opener against the Devils, the Caps extended a PTO to Roy, a versatile forward who can direct a power play, kill penalties and win key faceoffs while also providing quiet guidance for young forwards like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky.
“We’ve been talking a lot this summer and we felt this is a good opportunity for me to come play here,” Roy said. “It seems like they have some good leaders on this team and some great players and good young talent. I want to come in here and see where I fit.”
If Backstrom is unable to start the season, Roy could slide in behind Kuznetsov as a second-line center, or he could move to left wing behind Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson. His arrival could impact the playing time of forwards such as Brooks Laich and Burakovsky as well.
Three months ago Roy appeared to be close to re-signing with the Edmonton Oilers. He helped revitalize a struggling Nail Yakupov after arriving from Nashville last season and had become a strong, steady presence in a young Oilers locker room.
According to his agent, Roy’s future in Edmonton took a wrong turn when the Oilers won the draft lottery and took center Connor McDavid with the first pick.
“If Edmonton doesn’t win the draft lottery, Derek probably has a spot on their hockey team,” Roy’s agent, Rob Hooper, said. “We had positive conversations with Edmonton and (general manager) Peter Chiarelli put everything on hold once they won the draft lottery and Connor McDavid was going to be part of their organization.
“We were dealt that hand and now we’re trying to make the most of it and Derek is up for the challenge.”
Once July 1 passed with no contract offers, Roy had an opportunity to continue his playing career in Europe, but turned down lucrative offers for a chance to land on an NHL roster.
“It’s definitely challenging, but that’s the marketplace,” Hooper said. “I know Derek is in great shape, he’s healthy and he’s looking forward to showing what he can do. Hopefully, there’s a spot in Washington.”
Taken by the Buffalo Sabres with the 32nd pick of the 2001 NHL draft, Roy established himself as a reliable and crafty center who averaged 28 goals and 44 assists from 2007-10.
Roy had 35 points in 35 games in his seventh season in Buffalo when he suffered a season-ending quadriceps tear that required surgery.
“I was having a good season,” Roy recalled. “It’s a major surgery and it set me back a little bit. Sometimes it’s not just a quad that goes. It’s a groin, it’s a hip. I had to stabilize some of my muscles and strengthen my core and it’s definitely paid off.”
Roy spent the past two summers working with Gary Roberts, a former 50-goal scorer who won the Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989 while playing alongside Capitals current general manager Brian MacLellan.
Roberts now operates a renowned hockey training center in North York, Ontario and Roy spent the summer training there, alongside NHL stars Steven Stamkos, Phil Kessel, Teddy Purcell, and, ironically, McDavid.
“It was a tough offseason mentally, going to work out every day and not knowing where I was going to play,” Roy said. “It was definitely tough. There were other guys in the same boat, waking up in the morning and working that much harder to get where you want to be.”
Roy has played for five NHL teams in the past three seasons and is coming off a 12-goal, 20-assist season with the Predators and Oilers. On Tuesday it was clear Roy has spent the summer working on his speed game. He was one of the quickest players on the ice at Kettler and roofed a shot over goaltender Braden Holtby from close range.
“Every time we play against him he’s sneaky,” Backstrom said. “He’s good with the puck and he can play wing or center. He’s a good addition.”
Under the terms of a PTO, teams have up until the season opener to sign a player. If Roy plays well enough to make the Caps’ roster at the NHL minimum of $575,000, the team would need to clear salary space. That most likely will come in the form of goaltender Justin Peters ($950,000) being sent to the AHL Hershey Bears.
“I guess you’ve got to just act like a rookie and play your heart out every day in practice and games and everything else will take care of itself,” said Roy, adding that he had only spoken to Caps coach Barry Trotz for about two minutes.
“He said it’s an opportunity for me to show what I can do,” Roy said, “and that’s what I’m going to do.”