5:28 into the second period of Dallas' game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night, Stars center Derek Roy wristed a shot into the pads of opposing netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, scooped up his own rebound and then shoveled the puck past the sprawling goalie to give the Stars a 2-1 lead.
Standing behind the net immediately following the goal, Roy let out a big, exasperated sigh of relief. Not just because it was a hard-fought play or because it was the end of a long shift; it was also because it was only Roy's second goal of the season, his first in nine games, but not for a lack of trying on his part. From the expression on his face you could clearly see the proverbial monkey jump off his back.
The overall play was perfectly symbolic of Roy's time as a Star so far. It was an important moment towards the benefit of his team, but not one that came without it's share of adversity and sacrifice.
Roy's transition to Dallas, only his second NHL team after spending the first nine years in the Buffalo Sabres organization, has had it's share of setbacks: rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, an early groin injury that cost him five games at the start of the season, and the understandable period of time required to find chemistry with new teammates, especially with such a shortened training camp.
Not to mention the pressure. When Roy was acquired, he arrived with hefty expectations. Not only because he was a former point-per-game player in Buffalo, as recently as two seasons ago (albeit only in a 35 game span), but also because he was traded in exchange for one former fan favorite in Steve Ott, and was tasked with replacing another fan favorite in Mike Ribeiro as Dallas' second line center.
Yet despite these setbacks, Roy's determination to succeed has been unimpeded, and he is steadily finding his groove in Dallas, filling the gap of a reliable, two-way center that the team so desperately needed when the Stars traded for him over the summer.
Numbers-wise, things look good. Roy's 0.69 points-per-game percentage, from 11 points in 16 games, ranks him third on the team behind Jamie Benn's 0.88 and Jaromir Jagr's 0.70. His +5 rating is tops for all Stars forwards, and his average of 2:09 per game shorthanded is a big contributing factor to the team's 11th ranked penalty kill.
But it's when you closely watch Roy on the ice that you truly notice all that he brings to the table. It's all the small intangibles, the ones that don't appear on the stat sheets, that Roy has been best at utilizing to the benefit of his teammates. Despite his size, he's strong at winning puck battles. His speed and decision making allow him to both effectively protect of the puck as it's carried through the neutral zone, as well as know the right times to dish it off. On a team that's struggled so heavily defensively against the other team's attack, Roy has been one of the more consistent forwards when it comes to supporting on the back check. Looking at game recaps or highlights doesn't truly do justice to all the smart little things that he does right over the course of a game.
When we here at DBD did our Impact Player Rankings before the start of the season, we ranked Roy at #2 on the list. Judging by fan reaction towards Roy from the time he was traded all the way up until to now, we weren't the only ones that held that opinion. However, as steady as his play has been so far this season, the "impact" factor, the ability to single-handedly change the fate of games like we've seen Jamie Benn and Jaromir Jagr do, has been the one thing that's been eluding him. He's been noticeable, but at the same time hasn't often grabbed your attention and forced you to notice him. He has only two multi-point games, and zero game-winning goals.
Yet, as the season progresses on and team chemistry continues to build, that tide is starting to change. The duo of Roy and Loui Eriksson is looking better and better the more they play together, and looked downright dominant against Columbus, with Roy generating tons of offensive chances, including firing the overtime shot that assisted on Eriksson's game-winning goal.
While the start of his tenure as a Dallas Star hasn't gone as smoothly as hoped, Roy still brought with him the smart, versatile, consistent play that was the foundation of his game for years in Buffalo. With continued hard work, increasing familiarity with new teammates and some good luck on the health front, it's only a matter of time before Roy becomes the dominant, impact player that he has proven himself to be in the past, and shown himself to be working towards in the present.