Derek Armstrong was a smart, hard working playmaker who made strong decisions in all three zones. A natural center who also could play on the right wing, Armstrong was one of the more underrated players of his day. He was versatile, responsible defensively and creative offensively to regularly be called upon by his coaches in all sorts of situations.
Yet Armstrong never got a starring role in the NHL. That was largely because he was not very big, though he never backed down. He tirelessly tried to improve his overall quickness and skating, yet it always seemed to be his prime weakness. He also had a tendency to over-pass the puck instead of driving the puck to the net.
The Ottawa native was never much of a NHL prospect. He played for the Sudbury Wolves but the New York Islanders did not draft until 128th overall in the weak 1992 NHL draft.
Over the next four seasons "Army" refused to be outworked and that earned him shots at the NHL. By the fourth season he finally had his longest look with the Islanders, scoring six goals and seven assists in fifty games.
Yet the Islanders let Armstrong walk away as a free agent after that season. He would sign with his hometown Ottawa Senators, but again was demoted to the minor leagues for all but nine games.
The New York Rangers signed him as a free agent in 1998, though he would only play in seven games with the Rangers over the next three seasons. Instead he played with their Hartford Wolf Pack farm team, emerging as one of the AHL's top players.
In 2000 he was named as the AHL playoff MVP as he led Hartford over Rochester to the Calder Cup championship. By 2001 Armstrong led all AHL players in scoring and was named as the league's Most Valuable Player.
Despite dominating at the AHL level, Armstrong realized his chances at playing in the NHL seemed dim. He signed to play in Bern in the Swiss league for the 2001-02 season.
It was one of the toughest decisions of his life. It turned out be one of his best.
“I led the AHL in scoring but kinda got stuck on the Rangers farm team,” said Armstrong. “I wanted to take a shot because I always believed in my heart I could be a regular NHL player. I just didn’t get the chance, so I took off for Europe and gave it a go over there.”
Lucky for him, while he was there Armstrong caught the eye of former Kings coach Andy Murray.
“Andy used to coach over in the Swiss League. So, he had scouted the area. He must have tracked me down and made the recommendation to the Kings," he told MayorsManor.com
Armstrong returned to North America in 2002-03 and finally found a NHL job. He would play in 66 games with the Los Angeles Kings, scoring 12 goals and 38 points.
For Armstrong it was the perfect fit. Aside from the lost 2004-05 season to the NHL lockout which Armstrong returned to Switzerland, Armstrong would call Los Angeles home for six NHL seasons.
Armstrong retired in 2010 and got into coaching.
Even though Armstrong departed Los Angeles before the team's Stanley Cup glory years, he was really proud of his years there.
“I just came out every day and tried to work as hard as I could. I wasn’t the highest skilled player or the fastest player. But, it’s a lesson for all people to learn. If you dream, try to dream big and put as much work into it as you can.”
“Hopefully, I helped create an identity around here where guys came to work everyday. There were some tough years, but that’s what I tried to pride myself in. I enjoyed every minute of it too.”
Off the ice, Armstrong enjoyed as much as he could, too, like going on the Carson Daly show, the Price is Right and even throwing out the first pitch at a Dodgers game.
“I got to do some cool stuff,” Armstrong said. “But, watching kids like (Dustin) Brown and (Anze) Kopitar and those guys grow up – I knew them as kids when they were 18, 19, 20 years old. They’ve sure come a long way as pros. They’re all dynamite hockey players. But, they’re also good human beings and I think that’s the most important thing and why they had such a good run in the playoffs.”
In 477 career NHL games Derek Armstrong scored 72 goals, 149 assists and 221 points. But he never got to play in a single Stanley Cup playoff game.
“That was definitely tough,” he admitted. “There were a couple of times when I was with the Kings and I might have had an opportunity to go somewhere else at the deadline. But, I chose to stay. I sacrificed a little bit. But, I don’t regret my decision. Obviously, you want to play in Stanley Cup playoff games. But, it didn’t work out in my career. Obviously, you think about that. But it wasn’t in the cards.”