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Canucks count on Roy to plug hole in the middle

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- Derek Roy isn't big in stature, but the Vancouver Canucks are counting on him to fill a gaping hole at center.

Struggling to score with two proven NHL centers in the lineup, the Canucks acquired 5-foot-8 Roy from the Dallas Stars on Tuesday in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft and defense prospect Kevin Connauton.

Roy, who said he is finally healthy after an early-season groin injury, is ready to fill that gap on a Canucks team that has scored more than two goals four times in the past 16 games -- and one of those included two empty-net goals -- even if he wasn't yet sure where or how much he will play.

Derek Roy
Center - VAN
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 18 | PTS: 22
SOG: 65 | +/-: 3
Roy spent his first eight seasons with the Buffalo Sabres before being traded to Dallas last summer, and he admitted he doesn't know much about the Canucks or Vancouver. Roy hadn't talked to coaches about how he fits in, but after being unable to agree to a contract extension with the Stars he sounded eager to join a playoff-bound team.

"I felt bad because everybody wanted to do well here in Dallas and to win a Stanley Cup here, but at the same time I am now excited to go to an organization like Vancouver and excited to step in and play some big minutes and expect to go far in the playoffs," Roy said. "I had some minor injuries that set me back, but I am skating really well now and excited to help the team make a playoff push."

Roy, 29, had four goals and 18 assists in 30 games for the Stars. He put up six points in his final five games -- and he will be welcomed on a team that has played most of the season with Henrik Sedin and fourth-liner Maxim Lapierre as its healthy centers.

"I liked a lot of things," general manager Mike Gillis said of Roy. "I like the points-per-game average, I like the playmaking aspect and the opportunity to add another layer of offense I thought was important."

With Selke Trophy winner Ryan Kesler, who has played seven games this season, scheduled to be back on the ice within a week, the Canucks could suddenly go from a dearth to enviable depth down the middle.

That likely leaves Roy on a third line between Jannik Hansen and Chris Higgins, who signed a four-year, $10 million contract extension Tuesday, though Gillis mentioned another intriguing possibility.

"I really think we have a great third line if he's playing between Jannik Hansen and Chris Higgins," Gillis said, noting that line combinations are ultimately coach Alain Vigneault's decision. "There is an opportunity for him to play as a second-line center with Ryan on the wing, so we have lots of flexibility -- more flexibility than we had yesterday."

The increased flexibility includes trying to deal goaltender Roberto Luongo, who has been waiting for a trade since losing the No. 1 job to Cory Schneider three games into last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs. With the addition of Roy, Vancouver no longer needs a center in return for Luongo, who is in the third season of a 12-year, $64 million contract.

"Instead of being really focused on that one piece of the puzzle we can now look at other areas we would like to strengthen. We can look at other possibilities, maybe three-way deals," Gillis said. "We're still looking to be active."

Vancouver was one of the last teams in the bidding for big San Jose Sharks wing Ryane Clowe, who was traded to the New York Rangers for three draft picks Tuesday night. Gillis confirmed he was given permission to speak to Clowe's agent, but felt location -- not Clowe's desire for a contract extension -- was the main impediment.

"I think the opportunity to go to the East Coast was the most important thing from what we were told," Gillis said. "He liked our team, he liked our situation, but it sounds like geography was the dictating feature."

Regardless whether they add more players before Wednesday's trade deadline, the Canucks are hoping the speedy Roy brings an emotional lift to a depleted locker room that's missing Kesler and Manny Malhotra. The latter is done for the season and his career could be over because of safety concerns about his limited vision. That left them using rookie Jordan Schroeder, who was sent down to the American Hockey League on Tuesday, and a variety of wings at center.

Now they can lean on Roy, who averaged almost 29 goals and more than 73 points at his peak as a top-line center from 2007-08 through 2009-10. His numbers slipped as he battled injuries and moved down the depth chart, with 17 goals and 44 points in 80 games for the Buffalo Sabres last season before being traded to Dallas.

Dealt for a second time in less than a year, and headed to unrestricted free agency this summer after a four-year, $24 million contract expires, Roy needs to show he is worthy of a new deal Dallas evidently wasn't willing to offer.

"It's obviously tough, especially the trade from Buffalo -- I was there a long time and they felt they needed a change," Roy said. "Everything happens for a reason and I am real excited to have a healthy rest of the season and healthy playoffs and showing people what I can do."

For the Canucks, just being a healthy center is a great start.

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