EL SEGUNDO, CA — It wasn’t all that long ago that Los Angeles Kings defenseman Matt Roy was a virtual unknown, unless you followed college hockey very, very closely.
Indeed, the 25-year-old, 6-1, 200-pound native of Detroit, Michigan, who was selected by the Kings in the seventh round (194th overall) of the 2015 National Hockey League Draft, played three seasons at Michigan Tech in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association before moving up to the American Hockey League with the Ontario Reign late in the 2016-17 season.
With the Reign, Roy remained well under the radar. But after making his NHL debut with the Kings in February 2018, Roy has played his way into a larger role much earlier than expected. But getting to that point in this, his first full season in the NHL, did not come without a bump in the road.
“After two or three games, I was concerned whether or not he could play in the league,” said head coach Todd McLellan.
But after a conversation with the coaching staff, Roy quickly got himself back on the right path.
“I’m just playing more aggressively and I’m more assertive,” he said. “I spoke to the coaches about that, and we’ve all noticed that I tend to play better when I play a more aggressive game, so that’s what I’ve been trying to work on and focus on.”
“Playing more aggressively allows me to play a lot more, all over the ice, and that keeps me in the game more,” he added.
Indeed, the aggressive play quickly turned things around for Roy.
“We had a pretty firm or direct conversation,” said McLellan. “We were joking the other day—I don’t know if I’ve brought him in to talk with him. I should, probably, tell him what a good job he’s doing. But I don’t think I’ve talked to him since then about his play—he’s done such a good job. Whatever he got going after game three or four has been really good.”
The term, “aggressive” is used a lot across many different sports, and what it means varies widely. In Roy’s case, the term probably doesn’t mean what you might think.
“When you think of the word, ‘aggressive,’ you think of body contact,” McLellan explained. “But it’s just being in the play—jumping in and using his shot, which is really strong. That definition of ‘aggressive’ is really broad. We’re asking him to do a number of those things, and he’s done that.”
“I’m [moving up ice a bit more in the offensive zone, [closing the distance between himself and onrushing forwards], staying over the top of them instead of retreating,” he said. “That leads to a tight gap in the neutral zone, which can make the other team dump the puck, allowing me to have more speed going back to retrieve it and in making the next play.”
Roy’s improved play has led to him being able to make plays in situations where he might not have, previously.
“I’m just playing with greater confidence and I’m not worried about making a mistake like I was when I was first called up,” he said. “Those little things have helped my game.”
“It’s kind of a risk-reward thing,” he added. “If you don’t try anything, you’re not going to generate anything, either. You can’t be afraid to make a mistake. If you are, you won’t make plays. You have to find the balance and pick your spots.”
Roy is mostly a stay-at-home, defensive defenseman. Nevertheless, he has shown that he has some offensive capabilities, as his four goals and 13 assists for 17 points in 66 regular season games this season indicates.
“My game isn’t rushing the puck all the time,” he noted. “It’s more about finding shooting lanes and getting the puck to the net, creating rebounds so the forwards can tap it home, or just making good outlet passes that’ll lead to a rush. That’s more my game. I’m just trying to play within all that.”
“I’m not going out there, trying to force offensive plays,” he added. “You have to be patient and sometimes, bounces don’t go your way. Other times, they do. I’m just trying to get the puck to the net as much as I can. I’m just trying to remain patient and take advantage of my opportunities.”
To be sure, being in just his first full season in the NHL, Roy has a long way to go and a lot to learn before he becomes a bona fide NHL defenseman. But he appears to be exceeding expectations, showing that he may have greater potential than the Kings originally believed.
“He’s just steady,” said McLellan. “We talk about all the adjectives we use for [center Anze] Kopitar, I’ve used them for Matt the whole year. He’s steady, calm, physical. [Good shooter and passer], shot blocking, penalty-kill. Perhaps, as we go forward, he might get some power play time. We’ll see. I’m happy he’s on our team.”
“There’s opportunity here,” Roy noted. “I have to take advantage of that and play more of a role.”
It’s “so far, so good” on Roy doing just that.
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Matt Roy, shown here during a recent practice at the Toyota Sports Performance Center in El Segundo, California. Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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