Roy adding defensive game to offensive instincts

Photo: Scott Thomas

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

Re-drafts are a popular exercise among hockey fans.

A few years removed from a particular year’s draft class and with a growing body of work, where might a player go if the draft was held today? Higher? Lower?

In 2021, Joshua Roy went in the fifth round to the Montreal Canadiens. Now the Laval Rocket rookie is making a strong case that he might well be a fifth-round bargain. Either way, the Canadiens will take it.

Before turning pro, Roy combined for 97 goals in his final 121 regular-season games with Sherbrooke of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He had a strong showing with Montreal’s entry at the Buffalo prospects tournament back in September, followed by time spent at NHL training camp with the Canadiens.

After being assigned to Laval, the 20-year-old Roy went to work and has barely slowed down since.

He potted a goal and an assist on opening night against Abbotsford. A week later, he registered a hat trick as part of a five-point effort vs. Rochester. He earned the AHL Rookie of the Month award for October as he compiled 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in his first seven games as a pro.

More recently, the Rocket went through a stretch of five games in seven nights stretching from Winnipeg to Utica. Roy put up two goals and four assists, kick-starting a stretch in which Laval has earned standings points in six of their last eight contests (3-2-2-1).

In all, Roy begins this week tied for second place for the AHL rookie scoring lead at 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) through 18 games.

During a decorated junior career, Roy was named to the QMJHL’s First All-Star Team twice and won two World Junior Championship gold medals with Canada. His outgoing demeanor helped him to be named the QMJHL Personality of the Year in his final two seasons.

He also doubled down on his fitness goals and developed a defensive game.

Anyone who watches Roy will rave about his elite shot and offensive instincts. But while the gaudy point totals in the QMJHL will attract attention, being able to play a complete two-way game will be crucial for Roy as it is with any young prospect.

When Roy went to Sherbrooke, he worked closely with then-head coach Stéphane Julien, who has since moved on to become an assistant coach with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Julien helped Roy to map out a defensive game as well as improve his conditioning, two must-haves for any would-be NHL player.

“It’s because of him that I’m where I am today,” Roy said. “He changed my game a lot. That’s the main part of my success right now. I think my conditioning is way better. I think Steph pushed me through that, and he pushed me every day. Everything in Sherbrooke was hard, and I think that’s what I needed to be a better hockey player.”

But still, Roy acknowledges that he still has work to do on his 200-foot game.

“It got better from years ago,” he said. “If you look at me when I got to Sherbrooke and when I left, it’s a very different game. I worked a lot on my game, especially defensively. I think now I can play both ends.”

Follow that with a productive offseason, and Roy showed up in Laval ready to take on the AHL. The Rocket are a young club, featuring seven other rookies beside Roy. The Canadiens organization has worked to prioritize player development at the AHL level, and forwards Sean Farrell, Emil Heineman and Riley Kidney along with defensemen Logan Mailloux and the since-recalled Jayden Struble are among their top prospects stationed in Laval this season.

“I came to Laval with a good mentality to try to get better every day,” Roy said. “I’ve got to show up to the rink with the mentality of leaving knowing that I was better than I was before.”