It was the middle of March and Dallas Stars center Derek Roy was heading out after the team’s practice in Frisco. Roy, dressed in shorts, was ready to enjoy the rest of the day, a sunny one with the temperature to hit just above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Asked how often he was wearing shorts this time of year when he played in Buffalo, Roy smiled.
“Never,” he said. “It’s kind of cool. It gives you energy from the sunlight and the vitamin D that you get. It makes it nice waking up and coming to the rink.”
It’s been a season of change for the 29-year-old Roy, who has been living in a new city and playing with a new team.
“It’s been good. The team has been good and welcoming and trying to put me in the best spot to succeed and to do what I can do to help the team,” he said. “It’s a great city, warm weather, great places to go and it’s a happening city. It’s a good atmosphere to be playing in.”
And after recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and then battling through some injury issues early in the season, Roy seems to have found his stride recently. He’s picked up 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) over his past two games and now has 20 points (4 goals, 16 assists) in 27 games, co-leading the team in assists.
“He went through the offseason, got himself ready to go and then struggled with some nagging little injuries, the double groin issue and things like that,” said Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. “And now he is starting to feel better and he’s indicated that. He’s a creative player, he’s a smart player. Hopefully we are going to see the best of him and it looks like it is trending towards that.”
This season has been a fresh start for Roy, who spent his first eight NHL seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, the team that drafted him 32nd overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. There were some good seasons in Buffalo, including productive ones for Roy personally (81 points in 2007-08 and 70 points in 2008-09) and two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals (2006 and 2007).
There were some ups and downs in Buffalo in recent years and last season was a particularly rough one for the Sabres, who had high expectations but ended up missing the playoffs for the third time in five years. Roy, who had his season cut short by injury in 2010-11, played in 80 games in 2011-12 but struggled to produce due to shoulder and groin problems.
“It was a tough season all around. We were expected to do big things there and we didn’t succeed,” Roy said. “It was a tough season with injuries and stuff.”
With the Sabres looking to make a change and the Stars looking to replace Mike Ribeiro, who had been traded to Washington, Nieuwendyk struck a deal with Buffalo to acquire Roy for Steve Ott and Adam Pardy.
Rumors about Roy getting moved had been swirling for months, so he knew something might happen. But that doesn’t always prepare you for when it actually does happen, especially if you’ve been with the same team for a long time.
“My agent said don’t be surprised if you get traded,” Roy said. “But when you’ve played in organization so long, when you get traded it’s kind of surreal and I didn’t know what to think. But, yeah, I was surprised.
“I didn’t really know anything about Dallas, only played there a couple of times in my career. But it was exciting, I was going to start fresh, start new.”
That fresh start began with the Stars taking care of that shoulder issue Roy had played through the previous season.
“They figured a 100 percent Derek Roy would help the team more than playing at 75 percent, getting hurt, coming back and doing that all season,” Roy said.
After months of rehab, Roy was cleared to play just before the NHL lockout ended. The lockout, while tough for the NHL, was good for Roy, allowing him the extra time to recover the from the surgery.
“A blessing in disguise, I guess,” he said. “It’s good that I got to take my time, rest and work really hard to get back into shape.”
But injuries slowed him as the NHL season got underway. This time there were groin issues, and he ended up missing five games. Now, though, he is starting to feel healthy again and getting up to speed.
“I’m still trying to find it a little bit, but at the same time I am feeling pretty good. The groins are feeling a lot better than they did at the beginning of the year. I am skating a lot better,” he said. “The game has picked up a lot, too. We don’t realize it as much, but if you were to watch the first game of the season and watch now, everybody is skating a lot better and faster. Everybody has gotten rid of those small little injuries and everyone is playing well.”
Roy has proven to be a versatile player for the Stars, giving them a solid one-two punch at center along with Jamie Benn. He plays both power play and penalty kill.
“He takes some pressure off Jamie as a center,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “You can play him offensively and defensively. As you’ve seen, I play him and Fidds (Vernon Fiddler) the most taking draws defensively. You have an element there where he can play against the other team’s best players. He plays a good two-way game. Centers are so important and he’s given me, as a coach, different ways to deploy players.”
Stars forward Erik Cole has been a linemate of Roy’s at times this season. He also played against Roy a lot when both players were in the Eastern Conference.
“He has a good skill set and he skates really well. For being one of the smaller guys on the team and in the league, he is strong on his skates, strong on his stick. He makes some great plays,” said Cole. “Playing against him for a number of years, he was tough to defend and, at the same time, he can play hard on the opposite side of the puck. He can do it all.”
Roy is in the final year of his contract and there have been discussions about an extension with the Stars, but Roy said that’s between his agent and the team. As a pending unrestricted free agent, his name is going to surface in the trade rumor market as well. All that stuff, Roy said, takes a back seat right now.
“I am just trying to figure out my game right now and work to win hockey games with this team,” he said. “My agent and the general manager take care of that. I am getting filters from my agent and back towards them. It’s a tough time of the year, it’s tough to put in the back of your mind, but it is not there when I am playing. I’ve just got to out there and win hockey games, worry about that and everything else will take care of itself.”
And blocking out all that peripheral stuff is a lot easier when you enjoy what you are doing.
“I think, personally, it’s the best job in the world,” Roy said. “You should embrace the fact that you can come to the rink and do something you love every day.”
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