ST. LOUIS — Derek Roy is proud of his craft, setting up teammates.
“I tell my linemates to get their sticks down … and I might hit them,” Roy says confidently.
There’s a unique cause-and-effect routine in the job of a playmaking center. He’s sort of like a quarterback in football — finding the open passing lane, spreading the ball to his receivers, keeping the opposition guessing, making his team more dangerous.
The last three Stanley Cup champions had those types of centers:
* Jonathan Toews, Michal Handzus,
Andrew Shaw and Dave Bolland in Chicago
* Patrice Bergeron,
David Kreici, Rich Peverley and either Tyler Seguin or Gregory Campbell in Boston
* Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jarret Stoll
and Tyler Toffoli with the Los Angeles Kings, who knocked the Blues out of the playoffs
each of the last two years
Three teams, each with four or more playmaking centers.
The Blues? Not so much. It’s great to say you have a lot of scoring in your lineup, but if
there isn’t a playmaking force to distribute the puck, well, you look around and shake
David Backes and Patrik Berglund could not translate their talent to meet the “keep your stick down, I might hit them” mantra. They are shooting centers. To some extent, Vladimir Sobotka has that playmaking mind-set but is better known for his defense.
Which is why, after last season, the Blues entered into the bidding for such free-agent centers as Tampa Bay’s Vinny Lecavalier, Florida’s Stephen Weiss, Detroit’s Valtteri Filppula and Roy.
Enter Roy, who signed with St. Louis in July looking for a chance to win a Stanley Cup. The playmaking skills he brings the Blues, in even strength and on the power play, make that all the more feasible.
Right wing Chris Stewart, for example, could benefit from his presence. Stewart led the Blues with 18 goals and 36 points last season, but he is a winger in need of a playmaker. Stewart has only one assist so far this year, but he and Roy are working on the particulars that will make them more effective together as the season goes on.
“Me and Stewy have been talking a lot about trying to find chemistry, where each other is going to be on the ice, try to keep skating, keep moving, keep shooting pucks toward the net, keep making plays,” Roy says. “It’s a long season. It’s experience.”
Roy spent the first eight years of his nine-year NHL career in Buffalo. His best season came with the Sabres in 2007-08, when he had career highs in goals (32), assists (49) and points (81).
He split last season between Dallas and Vancouver, tallying seven goals and 28 points in 42 games. In his first six games with the Blues he has two goals and four assists.
“This is a great opportunity to kick-start my career again, get on the right path and work hard,” the 30-year-old center says. “They have a great young team and some great young players. It’s a tough team to play against. Whenever you came into St. Louis you knew you were coming into a battle, so it’s good to be playing for a team like that.”
Says Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, “He can really compete and hang onto the puck in small spaces for a little guy. He’s not afraid to take a hit to make a play or take a beating to make a play offensively. When he gets competing at a high level, he’s a very effective guy.”
“A little guy” — yes, that would be Roy, who checks in at 5 feet 9, 184 pounds, a size that plagues so many players. Roy overcame it through hard work and resolve — traits he has embodied since he was a kid and was encouraged by his best friend, Sebastien Bouchard, who didn’t take his own advice.
“‘Keep working hard and enjoy and have fun,'” Roy recalls Bouchard telling him. “He said he could see the talent I had inside me. He didn’t work as hard and he regretted it. To this day, he still regrets it.”
Roy has been on Hitchcock’s radar since the 2008 World Championships, where Hitchcock was Team Canada’s head coach and Roy played on a line with current Blackhawks Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp. They won the silver medal.
“Sometimes Toews was on the left side, sometimes Roy was in the middle,” Hitchcock says, “but he was really a competitive guy.”
Like his favorite player, Peter Forsberg.
“I enjoyed watching Peter Forsberg,” says Roy, who had plenty of Forsberg posters in his room. “In his prime, he was the best two-way hockey player in the NHL. Physical.
“To play against him (in the 2006 Eastern Conference quarterfinals, won by Buffalo in six games), trying to shut him down in the first round when we faced Philly, it was fun to be in the battle. I’ll tell you what, I learned a whole bunch about myself against him.”
It’s no surprise that hockey is in the blood of Roy, a native of Ottawa, Ontario, whose parents, Felix and Colleen, met at a rink. Felix was driving a Zamboni, wearing a purple jumpsuit. “Who is that person dressed like an idiot?” Colleen asked.
Both French (Felix’s side of the family) and English (Colleen’s) were spoken at the Roy household. “They threw me in a French school when I was 5 years old,” Derek recalls.
He was at Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League when he was drafted by the Sabres in the second round (32nd overall) in 2001. That was a couple of years after an announcer for the amateur team for which he played came up to him and asked:
“Do you want to be called ‘Rwah’ or ‘Roy?'”
“Not to be confused with Patrick Roy, I said, ‘Roy’s fine,’ ” Roy recalls about choosing the pronunciation that rhymes with “boys.” “It just stuck from there.”
So there you have it, Derek Roy always wanted to stand alone — then and now.
You can email Larry Wigge at firstname.lastname@example.org.