Nicolas Roy walks down the carpet unbuttoning his suit jacket with nervous excitement on his face. He starts to grin as he climbs the stairs to shake the hand of QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau before accepting a jersey from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. He pulls the jersey over his head and smiles. Roy is the first overall pick of the 2013 QMJHL draft, a group that includes potential NHL first-round prospects defenceman Jeremy Roy, forward Daniel Sprong, and goalie Callum Booth (52nd to Quebec).
But Roy would never play for Cape Breton. He wanted to finish high school in his home province of Quebec, where his parents and uncle work in the education system. His camp made it clear that he would return to midget AAA if he were selected by Cape Breton. And though the Screaming Eagles hoped to change his mind, in the end they traded him to the Chicoutimi Saguenéens for first-round picks in the 2014, 2015 and 2016 drafts.
A year later, all eyes are on Roy in his NHL draft year as he plays his second season for the Saguenéens. The six-foot-four, 202-lb. centre stands out every time he skates onto the ice. Most of the time he’s the biggest player out there. The expectations placed on him are huge as well.
Roy is from Amos, Que., a community of less than 15,000 in the province’s northwest, approximately a seven-hour drive from Montreal. “It’s cool to live there. You know everybody in the town. I’ve trained with the same guys since I started playing hockey, so that’s nice,” says Roy. In his midget AAA year, he had 15 goals and 18 assists in 27 games. But he also suffered a shoulder injury that cost him nearly half a season. Still, the setback didn’t deter scouts who even then saw Roy as a future NHL player.
And though his performance to date has not exactly overwhelmed—he finished 10th last season in rookie scoring and is off to something of a slow start this year with two goals and two assists in nine games—the Saguenéens remain confident they made the right move in acquiring Roy. “Every time you have a chance to have a player of that quality, you’ll have interest,” says Chicoutimi GM Marc Fortier. “We weren’t the only team chasing him. We were fortunate to be the team that got him. Having a guy like that, it’s a gift.”
Fortier knows a thing or two about evaluating NHL talent—he previously worked for the Colorado Avalanche as a scout. He says scouts look for five things: hockey sense, skills, skatings, size and how the player competes. Roy has four of the five.
“Everybody acknowledges he needs to work on his skating, his first three or four strides. He needs to be more explosive when he starts. The other thing he needs to work on is his maturity physically and he knows that also,” says Fortier.
A Quebec-based NHL scout agrees. “I like the frame, the vision, very good passer. I think physically he’s not as strong as you’d like him to be, not as tough in traffic.”
To prepare for this season, Roy went to hockey camps in Toronto and Los Angeles, focusing on his strength. “I gained weight to be stronger, 10 pounds, and I’m trying to be quicker on the ice,” he says.
Part of growing up in a small town in Quebec means Roy doesn’t have the same background and exposure as players growing up in big cities such as Montreal or Quebec City. One Eastern Conference NHL scout doesn’t see this as a disadvantage as it means his untapped potential may be reached faster.
“Once he gets drafted, goes into the development program of the team that drafts him, his progress will probably accelerate more than some of the other guys.”
The same scout sees Roy as possibly a top-15 pick this year. “No question he’s a first-round pick. He’d really have to fall off to not be in the first round.”
Even if his point total isn’t impressive to start the year, his confidence is growing as Roy becomes more comfortable in the Q. He’s not a vocal player, preferring to show leadership through working hard while working out and on the ice.
“You could tell when he first came to Chicoutimi that he was really shy, but now in his second year, he’s really coming out of his shell,” says Fortier. “That’s a great sign. That’s why we’ve always said we haven’t seen all his potential yet. We feel that he has so much more to show us.”
In June, we’ll see Nicolas Roy walk up to the stage in Sunrise, Fla., for the NHL draft. He’ll shake the hands of management from an NHL team with more confidence. The big kid from a small town still has a lot to show, but the signs have been promising.