Antoine Roussel’s play this season has been a pleasant surprise for the Dallas Stars, to say the least. Roussel was expected to be a fringe fourth liner capable of stepping in and providing some energy in spurts, either at center or on the wing. The Frenchman has taken the road less travelled to the NHL, earning his stripes in the ECHL and AHL after failing to get drafted during his QMJHL career.
Not many NHL players have ECHL games on their resume, and it is a testament to Roussel’s determination and work ethic (both of which are very obvious traits when you watch him play). Roussel has quietly emerged as an offensive threat in 2013, and he has earned a temporary home on the second scoring line. Will he last there over the long term? Probably not, but he has afforded Dallas the ability to spread out scoring on three lines.
And in case you don’t have the time to read this entire post, I have summarized it with a handy chart:
And for fans, he has been a lot of fun to watch. Roussel is tenacious, agitating, and fearless. He has fought bigger and stronger players with impressive fight cards, and he has already started to develop a reputation as a pain in the butt to play against. Roussel has done a great job of filling the Steve Ott role with the Stars, and that is something that Brad Gardner noted last week:
Roussel likely isn't a big part of Joe Nieuwendyk's vision for the future of the team's top-six, but he fits right now. He's contributing and producing at even strength. He's "scaling up" the lineup, like Steve Ott did so effectively in chunks while here, and they'd like to continue taking advantage of it. Franchises need these pleasant surprises along the way to succeed.
One player who has had a lot of success in the NHL after going undrafted and playing in the ECHL along the way is Vancouver's Alex Burrows. Burrows has developed into a very good NHL player (his offensive success is owed in large part to the Sedin twins, but Burrows is a very smart player who contributes in a lot of other ways, especially with his defensive play). Like Burrows, Roussel was never drafted, even though he had a very good QMJHL career. Here are some more parallels between the two players:
- Both are French (Roussel from France, Burrows from Quebec).
- Both were solid pests and scorers in the QMJHL.
- Both were undrafted and spent time in the ECHL before breaking out in the AHL.
- Both made their NHL debuts at the age of 23.
- Both work really hard and possess hockey smarts.
Roussel doesn’t have Burrows’ skill or overall hockey ability, but he has found a home in Dallas. He won’t be a second line winger forever (in fact, he has already been moved back to center, at least at practice), but he has a lot of value because of his ability to do many things very well.
I saw Roussel play a few games with Vancouver’s AHL affiliate in 2011-12 (the Chicago Wolves), and I was a bit surprised he didn’t earn a contract with the team for 2012-13. He took on some tough customers, played a great energy role, and showed some offensive ability from time to time. Roussel has been given a few opportunities to play in the NHL (mostly a few brief preseason looks), but he hasn’t really been given a serious look until this season. Some players never get that opportunity. Roussel thankfully got his, but he also has worked his butt off to make the most of it. Not all young players seize NHL opportunities. Some try and change their games, and many others can’t deal with the pace or speed of the game relative to the AHL or other lower leagues.
Roussel earning his chops against a tough customer:
And Roussel displaying said fearlessness – he probably gives up close to 50 pounds in this tilt:
Roussel will likely settle in as a fourth liner with Dallas, but he has proven over the first few weeks of his NHL career that he can fill in and contribute offensively if need be. Dallas is a team in transition this year (I think I have used that word upwards of 50 times in my posts over the past few months), and their lineup isn’t "perfect." They are a few years away from really having the team they want. In the meantime, there will be a lot of line juggling and players tried out in different situations.
A lot of the young guys are auditioning for next season (and beyond), and so far Roussel has impressed management, coaches, fans, and teammates. And more importantly, he has earned a reputation as a player who will do anything to win. Be it fight a tough opponent, lay down in front of a slap shot, or take a huge hit in order to move the puck, Roussel will do whatever the team asks of him. And right now that includes scoring goals, too.
Roussel played center every game in the AHL this season, so he is used to that position. He is 10-for-14 (71.4%) on faceoffs in the NHL this season.
"I played winger most of my career, but when I got there (Texas Stars), they switched me to center and I didn’t play any wing there," Roussel said. "Honestly, I can do both. I can change during a game. It’s reallly not that hard. You know where you are and what you’re job is, so you just go do it."
In the below clip, Roussel hustles hard to the front of the net, and he stays there to hack and whack at the puck. The goal was a turning point in the game, and a direct result of his tenacity and hard work:
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