On a professional tryout with the Washington Capitals, Derek Roy isn’t even listed on the team’s active roster, reserved for players under contract. He could be released at any time without financial consequence, making Kettler Capitals Iceplex just another brief stop in his 12th NHL season.
Though his future with Washington is uncertain, Roy has chosen to be of the moment, which is being an invested member of the team. That might mean speaking up when he thinks a teammate should have done something differently or he has advice to offer.
The 32-year-old center is vying for a bottom-six role, his main competition being 21-year-old Chandler Stephenson, who mostly centered a checking-line in Hershey last season. But Roy’s veteran presence, and his comfort in sharing his experience with younger teammates, could help keep him in Washington.
“You’re going to throw all your eggs in one basket,” Roy said. “You’re going to be invested in this team and part of the team right now and hopefully down the road, so it’s a matter of building relationships and working hard every day and showing what you can do offensively, defensively, face-offs, everything. You’ve got to develop a trust with the coaching staff and your teammates, and that’s something I’m trying to do here.”
Washington Coach Barry Trotz did his research on Roy when the Capitals signed him to a professional tryout contract, a no-risk move aimed at bolstering depth up the middle in training camp, especially with top-line center Nicklas Backstrom’s status for opening night uncertain.
There was obvious information a Google search could provide. Roy was a former second-round draft pick. Traded from Nashville to the Edmonton Oilers last season in late December, Roy had 22 points in 46 games. Should his time in Washington lead to a free-agent contract, the Capitals would be his seventh team since the 2011-12 season.
But with his roster loaded with young talent at forward, Trotz was intrigued by a more obscure piece of information: He had heard that Roy was largely responsible for mentoring Nail Yakupov, a 21-year-old Russian winger with the Oilers.
Yakupov told reporters in Edmonton that he was scared of Roy for the first five or six games they were linemates, taken aback by the amount of screaming and profanity Roy would hurl at him when they were on the ice. But Yakupov gushed about how much Roy had supported him and that the initial tough love was ultimately a good thing.
Trotz and Roy didn’t discuss Roy mentoring young players at training camp, but Trotz has intentionally had Roy centering lines with Jakub Vrana, Stanislav Galiev and Chris Brown, skilled young forwards. Roy didn’t think it was something Trotz had to tell him, as “it’s what you do as an older guy.”
“We’ve got some great young talent here,” Roy said. “Whenever I see something that can be utilized in the game or later down the road to help us as a team, then I’m going to say something. Yak was a great kid and he’s a good hockey player. I just had to help him out a little bit, and you know, he was on his way after that.”
Said Brown: “He voices his opinion when he needs to and gives some good insight. You listen whenever he talks. He’s got that demeanor where he’s larger than he looks.”
The Capitals are projected to have roughly $1.5 million in available salary, once either goaltenders Philipp Grubauer or Justin Peters are dispatched to Hershey and final cuts are made, meaning that the Capitals would likely be able to fit Roy under the cap. His previous cap hit was worth $1 million. The cap hit for Stephenson, already in the organization on a two-way deal, would be $735,833.
“There’ll be a lot of factors to consider,” Trotz said. “The role and where we are, in terms of our team and how far [Backstrom] is. The cap implications it would have and the depth implications. All of us will go into a little bit of a think tank, and they’ll separate themselves hopefully.”