Antoine Roussel is a wonderful person. He worked his way up from an undrafted UFA to an integral part of multiple Stars’ playoff teams, and he was quite possibly the best Stars player last year.
I’m not exaggerating about that last part. Roussel started in the defensive zone a fair bit, and he quite often saw the puck get down the ice to the other end. Some of those times involved fun goals. Others, just shots. Nonetheless, Roussel ended up being, by an absurd margin, the Stars’ best possession player last season, per Hockey-Reference.com:
(Let’s not get sidetracked by the small sample sizes of Dowling and Honka, for now.)
That’s insane, by the way. There was as much distance in shot differential between Roussel and second place (Hamhuis) than there was between Hamhuis and Patrik Nemeth, who was not in the top ten.
But even more than possession, which the Stars have had plenty of this year, a team needs goals. (We all need goals, really.) And Roussel did something last year that this year’s team has not done, yet: he turned great possession into great scoring numbers. Roussel, in fact, was tops on the team in GF/60 at 3.2, just beating out Jason Spezza.
This is significant for two reasons: One, because rate stats are necessary to compare players with unequal playing time—Roussel got nowhere near the power play time of Spezza, Benn and Seguin, but his even-strength goal scoring was still right there with them; and two, because Spezza was given plenty of offensive zone time, whereas Roussel was given much more defensive zone time, as we mentioned. For Roussel to still outscore Spezza (and let’s don’t get started on how both outscored Seguin and Benn) in terms of goals-per-minute is outstanding in every sense. Roussel had a great year during a bad year, and that made it seem like a ridiculous luxury for the Stars to start him on their presumptive 4th line this year with Radek Faksa (who was also quite good last year).
However, this year has not been last year, which would have seemed like a hopeful thing out of context (and perhaps it still will be). Roussel started this year with no points and 12 penalty minutes in five games, which is not good. His relative possession numbers have still been very good (better than Seguin and Benn good), but his minutes are down despite his line pushing possession. Radek Faksa appears to still be as good a linemate for Roussel as he was last year (and this whole piece could equally talk about Faksa needing to score, too), so it’s not like Hitch is really hamstringing Roussel outside of getting a couple fewer minutes per night. The goals just aren’t coming, yet.
Roussel appears to still possess the same tools as last year; the results have been different. There have been too many non-matching penalties taken, and he (not to mention the rest of the entire danged team) has not been capitalizing on chances. The missed net against Nashville kind of brought the whole issue to a fever pitch. Roussel appears to have bought into the Hitch system effectively, and that’s good. But he’s not scoring goals yet, and he’s taking too many penalties. He is, in other words, a lot like the rest of the Dallas Stars this year.
Here is where you get to decide if last year’s scoring was a fluke. Roussel is in his final contract year, and points are going to mean dollars for him. We fans don’t much care about how many millions Roussel makes next year because hey, it’s not our money, we’re just self-interested fans. But the team very much would love for Roussel to make a lot of money next season and beyond due to a wonderful contract year, wherever he ends up getting paid to make it.
It is not too late for, well, anything. It’s five games into the season, and the Stars are doing a lot of the difficult, systematic things correctly. They are not consistently doing the most important things well, which are mainly scoring goals and Not Breaking Down in Coverage At the Worst Time. Goals tend to follow good chances, and the Stars are creating those. Roussel is, in as much time as he’s given, also creating them. He’s getting the least ice time per game since his rookie season, partly because the Stars have more good players this year.
It would be nice for Roussel to earn more ice time this year. It would be nice for the Stars to all earn more goals this year. I think it’s still a good bet to plan on Roussel hitting 10 goals. But for a team that is desperate for scoring, they need Roussel and other depth players to start chipping in instead of just getting chippy. This offensive offensive funk is only going to start to end when Roussel and the Stars begin to finish.