When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
The start of the 2016-17 NHL season has undoubtedly been a tough one for the Dallas Stars. The reigning Central Division champs have seen their aspirations for success dealt a staggering blow early and often in the form of injuries to their forward corps.
Seven out of the club’s top 12 forwards have already missed time due to various ailments. Ales Hemsky and Mattias Janmark could be done for the season. Cody Eakin hasn’t made an appearance yet. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin have played all 17 games so far, but started the season at less than 100% efficiency. It’s been (thankfully just figuratively speaking, but who would be surprised at this point?) an epidemic.
One small silver lining through the whole ordeal, however, has been the increased ability to assess how the remaining healthy forwards are able to handle times of adversity. Rookies Devin Shore and Gemel Smith, for example, have been given the chance to play regular minutes in the NHL, with both showing different signs that they are able to hold their own at hockey’s highest level.
But it’s 26 year-old Antoine Roussel that has risen most to the occasion.
The native of Roubaix, France was asked to step up for his team in times of need and has performed admirably. In addition to his role as one of the team’s most trusted penalty killers, Roussel has also been asked to carry a heavier load offensively, lining up next to Tyler Seguin and Patrick Eaves on Dallas’ second line and skating as one of the five players on the team’s top power play unit.
"He is awesome to play with," Eaves said recently. "You're not going to find anyone who works harder, and it's contagious when you're out there with him."
He’s proven himself to be up to the challenge. With an assist on Tuesday night he extended his point streak to seven straight games. He’s now up to 12 points in 17 games this season, three of which have come on the ever-important man-advantage.
It’s not just special teams where Roussel has been shining, either. He currently leads all Stars players with a 53.2 Corsi For percentage at even strength.
Now, knowing Roussel, none of this means that he’s abandoned his usual calling cards. He’s still his regular feisty self, relentlessly chirping opposing players while also leading the team in penalty minutes with 54 and fights with four.
Roussel worked his way up through the minor leagues and carved out a spot for himself in the NHL the hard way, by being a player that laid it all out on the line and doing whatever his team asked of him. It should come as little surprise, then, that he’s doing the exact same thing now, at one of the times where the Stars have needed him the most.