MONTREAL — Jocelyn Thibault, gars de chez nous, knows more than a thing or two about playing for the Montreal Canadiens, and he has little reservation about proclaiming prospect Joshua Roy has what it takes to one day do it.
A day after the 18-year-old was one of the first three cuts at Canadiens training camp, we caught up with Thibault, who’s part-owner and vice-president of hockey operations of Roy’s QMJHL Sherbrooke Phoenix, and he said this kid has a lot more than just the right attitude.
But the former Canadiens goaltender, who returned to his hometown in 1995 via trade for his boyhood idol and arguably the most popular and best goaltender in Canadiens history (another Roy, this one named Patrick), believes Roy’s chances to prove the organization hit a home run in selecting him 150th overall in the 2021 NHL Draft start with what he has inside.
“I’ve been around and gone through it, so I know,” Thibault said. “Among all the players drafted in Montreal who have a chance to actually make it in Montreal, I think Josh is one of them. His character is really, really high. He’s a really good kid, but he also has that F-U attitude where nothing bothers him. It’s unbelievable how nothing bothers him.
“If you were playing in the gold medal game in the Olympics and decided to put him in the shootout, he’s got no heartbeat, he doesn’t feel stress at all. To play in Montreal, I think that’s a great asset to have.”
It’s not the only one Roy possesses, which he proved in convincing fashion throughout rookie camp but also over the five days he was at main camp.
As Thibault noted, the Saint-Georges-de-Beauce, Que., native has “hockey sense through the roof and offensive touch off the charts,” and that was on full display during Sunday’s Red and White scrimmage at the Bell Centre.
Granted, Roy was cut after the game — he was going back to junior no matter what and the idea was to return him there fast and with a bit more experience under his belt — but he stood out, first on a great individual effort for a backhand goal and then sneaking his way to the back door for a goal Joel Armia set him up for. And now he’ll take that confidence with him to Sherbrooke, where Thibault says he’ll play in every key situation this season.
The Phoenix acquired Roy from the Saint John Sea Dogs, who had selected him first overall in the QMJHL draft after he helped the triple-A Levis Chevaliers to 41-1 record by scoring 38 goals and finishing with 88 points in 42 games.
Roy then posted 16 goals and 44 points in his first season with the Sea Dogs and followed it up with nine goals and 17 points in his first 15 games last year.
But he wanted out of Saint John and that was music to Thibault’s ears.
“I liked him in midget,” Thibault said. “I was the GM with Sherbrooke back then and I saw him play quite a bit. I was at the Canada Games in Red Deer, (Alta.) in 2019. Team Quebec won gold, and the best line in Canada that week was on their team — Justin Robidas at centre, Josh Roy and Olivier Nadeau, who plays in Shawinigan and has since been drafted by Buffalo.
“I followed Josh a lot. We had two first-round picks that year. But they were eight and nine or 10 and 11, so they were too far to get Roy or Robidas or Nadeau. But I really liked Josh. Last year, in Sherbrooke, we heard that Josh was available and that things weren’t working out in Saint John, and we investigated. We had interest, as did (former Canadien) Stephane Robidas. And our scouts really liked him. So, it was the Joshua Roy Derby at trade deadline. We paid a lot for him, gave up a lot, but I really think he’s a special player.”
Now Thibault, Robidas and the rest of the people running the Phoenix will work to help Roy show that more consistently.
Roy hasn’t been able to do that to this point, which is why he slipped to the fifth round of the draft.
He’s since lost 20 pounds and gotten himself into proper shape, and Thibault says he’s driven to prove his doubters wrong.
“There’s a paradox looking at Josh,” Thibault said. “He’s an unbelievable competitor. Like, even when he plays soccer with the boys in the hallway, he wants to win. He wants to win really, really bad at everything he does. But, on the other side, hockey has always been so easy for him — he’s put up points everywhere — and I think he’s realized over the last two years how there comes a point where just putting up numbers isn’t enough.
“And Josh, even if put up a ton of points everywhere, even the scouts were saying, ‘You can’t play hockey in the NHL floating around.’ Everyone was wondering if this kid could add tools to his game and play 200 feet to be involved every shift, and that’s why there were question marks about him. But, like I said, it’s kind of a paradox because he’s such a competitor. Some nights, you’d see him play and wonder, ‘Does this kid want to play tonight,’ but he really wants to play and really wants to score goals.
“Part of it was conditioning. Everything came so easy to him, he never realized he had to work that hard to become a hockey player. To be pedal-down every day in practices and in games, he wasn’t doing it. But that other side where he wants to win and make a difference has brought him to a point of realizing it’s not going to come that easy anymore. That’s why he lost 20 pounds. And he just wants to be a hockey player and is on board with whatever we tell him to make him one. He sees it’s paying off, so it’s easy to work with him.”
Thibault says Roy will have to do his part to be more impactful all over the ice, and that his involvement in every aspect of the game is a mandate this season — regardless of how much offence he’s producing — and he wrapped our conversation reiterating he’ll be a player to watch.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on Roy’s progress from here.
Cole Caufield to miss “about one week,” Edmundson, Niku and Gallagher in the mix
Cole Caufield, who was one of a few Canadiens appearing halfway decent in their 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, was a last-second scratch at Sunday’s scrimmage because he suffered an upper-body injury in warmup.
“I gotta go see the training staff to know more,” said coach Dominique Ducharme on Monday, “but after last night they thought (he’ll miss) about one week.”
“It was 100 per cent before warmup, but it’s probably nothing major,” Ducharme added in French. “We believe it’ll be a week, but, like I spoke about last week (regarding injured Canadiens Mike Hoffman and Carey Price), bringing him back too quick could have him risk re-injuring himself. We’re going to take our time to make sure he’ll be OK, so that’s why we’re waiting a week.”
The Canadiens won’t have to wait much longer for defenceman Joel Edmundson, who’s been skating on his own since being listed as “day-to-day” with an undisclosed injury he started camp with last week.
Ducharme said Edmundson would join practice either Tuesday or Wednesday.
Defenceman Sami Niku, who signed with the Canadiens late last week, will also jump from the cast-off group of mostly AHL players he practised with on Monday to join one of the main ones on Tuesday.
And Canadiens assistant captain Brendan Gallagher practised on Monday after missing the start of camp for “family reasons.” Ducharme said he’ll dress for one of two exhibition games the team is scheduled to play against the Ottawa Senators this coming weekend.