Antoine Roussel had a fairly lackluster year. When the undrafted Frenchman made his Stars debut in the lockout season, he made a decent impact, scoring 14 points in 39 games. In the 2013-2014 season, he expanded on that with a career high 29 points in 81 games. Along the way, he also stole teeth, and disturbed an essence or two.
And then last season, he appeared to take a modest step back. Not only in terms of points (with 25), but his possession numbers took a hit as well, from 52.3 percent two seasons ago, to 50.6 this season. Even his facepunching had a little less flair.
Roussel is a polarizing symbol of Dallas' game. Some feel like he's a solid depth winger. Others feel like he's in over his head. Whatever your opinions, he has a specific role for the franchise, and it's not an easy one.
Along with Cody Eakin, and the now departed Ryan Garbutt, Roussel has been asked to face tough opposition while starting in his own zone, and screw up as little as possible.
It's a tall task. Is he prepared to assume the role moving forward?
When you look at Roussel's numbers, they're fairly interesting. His HERO chart illustrates a narrative my eyes have always assumed, which is Roussel as a defense-through-offense type; relying on combativeness to supplant contemplation. Like some sort of batteries not included Patrice Bergeron. Sure enough...
Despite my crude comparison, this isn't the chart of a bad player. On the contrary, it reveals an interesting nuance to Roussel's game. When it comes to generating shots, and aggressively pursuing the puck, he's actually quite above average.
Roussel is a lot of fun to watch because he reminds me of a hockey John Spartan; a brutish fossil, symbolic of a decayed era, gratefully remembered. He's not necessarily a great set up man, but his CF per 60 is high because he works hard to keep the puck in the opponent's zone. He understands and reads the game better when he's the hammer.
Less so, however, when he's the nail. His ability to actually shutdown opponents in his own end is a different, less effective story. This helps explain his job on the penalty kill, which has been somewhat below average. To be fair, he's only played 200 NHL games. And essentially all of it has been played with Eakin and Garbutt. As you can see, their effectiveness together has been a mixed bag.
Then again you wouldn't expect much else given their quality of competition. You just can't understate the impact of his role (which is why he's higher on this list than I think some fans would like). Roussel started in his own end at a rate of 43.7 percent; offsetting the difficult zone starts with an offensive zone finish of 48.8 percent.
As much as fans love the kids in Cedar Park, it's hard to imagine someone easily stepping into Roussel's shoes (err, skates). But Roussel hasn't had much of a chance to spread his wings. When you look at his history strips, he hasn't played away from the pitbulls much, and when he has, it's been with Vernon Fiddler and Colton Sceviour.
None of this is to argue that he deserves a spot on the top two lines. Or even that he has untapped potential. Only that the pitbull experiment probably needs a makeover. Roussel is a solid player on his own, and he's responded to Ruff with respect to taking less penalties (down 209 penalty minutes to 148 last season). Which means he's coachable.
Roussel has a future with Dallas. The team loves him, management loves, the fans love him, and the opponents hate him. Even if his ceiling projects to be the same as last season, it's not such a bad thing to have someone produce at that rate against that kind of competition while driving them nuts. After all, I'll gladly take Ryan Getzlaf off the ice if it means Roussel joins him because Getzlaf couldn't handle a few love taps to the cage.
But Roussel can't replicate his offensive performance from last season while struggling defensively at the same time if he wants to be part of the core. For now, he's very much a part of it. It'll be interesting to see how he reacts to last season's performance. Also, there's never not a moment when I can't relish this: