Rookie Joshua Roy off to quick start with the Laval Rocket

The 20-year-old winger has two goals and two assists in his first two games and has earned the trust of head coach Jean-François Houle.

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From the moment he first laced on skates, Joshua Roy knew he was a natural scorer. Whether through crafty anticipation or the puck just following him, he has consistently produced.

“I’ve always had that touch of scoring goals, since I started to play,” the Laval Rocket rookie right-winger said after Tuesday’s 60-minute practice at Place Bell.

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While the Rocket lost its opening two AHL games at home last Friday and Saturday to Abbotsford, Roy’s pro career is off to an excellent start with a pair of two-point games, split between goals and assists. During Saturday afternoon’s 4-3 defeat, the 6-foot, 192-pounder fired an impressive 10 shots on goal while playing on a line with Emil Heineman and Mitchell Stephens.

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Roy said his mentality is that every shot can result in a scoring chance. But the 20-year-old native of Saint-Georges, in the Beauce region, realizes the transition from junior to the AHL will take time, he said.

“It’s as hard as everybody said,” Roy said. “You just have to work hard. I had a very big summer, training in Montreal. I think that helped me a lot to take a step.

“I had hope, like everybody, of sticking with the Canadiens. But it’s not a bad thing that I came here, take confidence, keep working and getting better.”

Although Roy was a former first overall draft choice in the QMJHL, with Saint John, his play during his NHL draft-eligible year was lacklustre, eventually resulting in a trade to Sherbrooke. It’s probably why Roy remained on the board into the fifth round, when the Canadiens selected him 150th overall in 2021.

The trade to the Phoenix rejuvenated Roy’s career. He had a league-leading 51 goals and 119 points in 66 games for Sherbrooke during the 2021-22 season, adding 46 goals and 99 points in 55 games last season. He completed his junior career with 297 points in 216 games and was named to the QMJHL’s first all-star team last season.

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Roy also was a key component on Canada’s gold-medal winning squad at last year’s world junior championship, producing five goals and 11 points in seven games. It helped that he played on a line with Connor Bedard, selected first overall by the Chicago Blackhawks this year. Bedard led the tournament with nine goals and 23 points, but Roy was second on the team in scoring and assisted on the golden goal.

Roy has been called a cerebral player by Adam Nicholas, the Canadiens’ director of hockey development. An argument could be made that Roy is the most-improved prospect in the organization’s system, although his skating could use some work. His conditioning will be tested as well, given the AHL’s rigorous schedule and long bus trips.

“The first two games here, we gave him a lot of ice time — deservedly so,” Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle said. “I thought he was one of our good players. He showed that he’s got some skill and can put the puck in the net. He’s ahead of the curve a little bit. It’s great to have a rookie ahead of the curve. I think he’s got a promising future ahead of him.

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“You can’t teach experience,” Houle added. “It’s about getting games under his belt. He can always get faster, stronger, becoming a pro day in and day out. Having that schedule, how to prepare yourself, before and after games. It’s way different from junior. We’ll see what happens when we have back-to-back games … five games in seven nights in November. We’ll see how he fares with those.”

Roy might be on an early goal-a-game pace, but realizes that’s not going to continue. But he won’t put limitations or expectations on his rookie campaign. He’s thankful to have earned the trust and confidence of Houle so far.

“I just want to keep working and getting better so, one day, I reach the NHL,” Roy said. “Keep grinding. I don’t want to focus on my points. That can distract me.”

Meanwhile, the Rocket has lost Heineman indefinitely with an upper-body injury. He possibly could have been called up to the big club to replace injured Canadiens forward Kirby Dach, who is expected to miss the season with a knee injury. Heineman had seven goals in 11 games with Laval last season.

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