Every hockey season we see multiple players who get stuck on the “treadmill” or “carousel” between the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League. Whichever term you want to use, Vegas Golden Knight’s center Nicolas Roy has been the epitome of this.
Racking Up the Frequent-Flyer Miles
The last six months have been a whirlwind for Roy. In June, he celebrated a Calder Cup championship with the Charlotte Checkers on the ice at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL. Little did he know at the time, that was going to be one of the arenas he would call home during the 2019-20 season. Roy was traded to the Golden Knights, just a few days after his victory celebration, in exchange for Erik Haula.
Through the first three months of the season, Roy has gotten used to the flight between Sin City and the Windy City. The Chicago Wolves, the AHL affiliate of the Golden Knights, have made 67 transactions on the season, so far. Roy is responsible for 15 of those as he has gone between the NHL and AHL seven times already.
He has squeezed in seven NHL games in between 17 with the Wolves. He’s played well in his time with the Golden Knights and even scored his first career NHL goal versus the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 27. He has six goals and 14 points with the Wolves and has really picked up his play of late.
He was last sent back down to the AHL on Dec. 2 and having six straight games with the same team, the longest such streak he’s had this season, is paying off. Since his latest reassignment, Roy has four goals and eight points in six games.
While it can’t be easy going back and forth between two leagues, Roy would not say it has been affecting his play at all.
“I’m used to it,” Roy admitted. “It’s just playing hockey. It’s a little bit different, but you get used to it.”
However, Wolves’ head coach Rocky Thompson, who made several trips between the NHL and AHL during his playing career, expanded on what that is like.
“It’s difficult when you flow between the two,” Thompson said. “I did it when I played a long time ago and it is hard. It is always hard when you get sent down because your heart is in the NHL. But we have such a great group of guys in our locker room and really good character and leadership. I think that when guys get sent down, they are not happy about it, but they love the atmosphere so much that it softens the blow. Then they start to enjoy it, no matter what.”
Consistency Leading to Results
Roy is starting to make the best of his situation and he was a difference-maker for the Wolves last week. On Dec. 14, he had the game-winning goal, in overtime, to beat the AHL-leading Milwaukee Admirals. He followed that up with a hat trick and a primary assist in a 4-1 win over the San Antonio Rampage on Dec. 17.
“Right now, I am very comfortable on the ice,” he said moments after his four-point performance. “My partners are helping me, so I’ve got to just keep going.”
Thompson could not help but smile when he was asked about Roy’s progression over the past few games.
“He’s played really well,” he said. “The tough part from him, earlier on, was that he was always in between. He wasn’t here for very long and then he’d be gone. That’s difficult. Even though we play the same way, it is hard to flow between the two because your mind isn’t set with one team. Or, if it is, it obviously would be with Vegas.
He’s had some consistency here with his line-mates. He wants to be a National Hockey League player. He knows that if you come down here and dominate at this level, which we think he can, he’ll be able to translate that with momentum when he gets his next call up. I think he’s doing a great job.”
Where Can Roy Go from Here?
Roy is an intriguing prospect for the Golden Knights after being drafted in the fourth round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes. At 6-foot-4 and 208 pounds, he has the build to be a mainstay in the NHL. He has held is own on the fourth line as well as spending a little bit of time on the penalty kill. Thompson feels his ceiling can be higher than that if he continues to progress.
“I think he can definitely play on a fourth line and play special teams, kill penalties,” he replied when asked what Roy can be in the game’s top league. “He has the ability to be a good checker. If he can get his offense going like he did tonight; that’s one thing he hasn’t done at the American League level, except in the playoffs.
“He was a big reason we couldn’t beat them last year, because of Nicolas Roy and the offense and ability to check. I think if he can continue to get that offense down here, that can push him up the ladder in the National Hockey League to be a player that doesn’t just play on the fourth line and on the penalty kill. He could move up to the third line slot and also produce offensively, which you need to do if you play on the top nine.”
It is hard to imagine a scenario where Roy spends the rest of the season in Chicago, but you can bet that Thompson and his Wolves teammates hope that he does. The Wolves have won four out of their last six games and have themselves back in a Calder Cup playoff spot. They will remain in the mix for the rest of the season.