In a frenzy of offseason moves that led to the acquisitions of Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney, Derek Roy, Aaron Rome and Cody Eakin, the Dallas Stars’ summer signing of forward Antoine Roussel came with comparably little fanfare.
Nor, really, should it have. At the time the undrafted, 22 year-old Roussel was coming off of a forgettable first (and only) season with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. His 9 points and -13 rating in 61 games were disappointing, and although his 177 penalty minutes were indicative of an admirably tough, physical style of play, they were also a sign of a lack of discipline. Following a four-year QMJHL career with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens where he averaged 35 points, 104 penalty minutes and a -7 rating in an average of 63 games per season, his performance with the Wolves wasn’t particularly surprising.
It was safe to assume that, at the time of signing his two-year, two-way contract with the Stars back in July, Roussel was destined for the AHL, and an NHL future was little more than a distant dream.
Yet, a mere eight months later, not only is Roussel living that dream of playing in the NHL, but he is excelling at it. The rookie has 8 points in 13 games so far this season for the Stars, and has played so well as of late that he is getting regular shifts on Dallas’ second line alongside center Derek Roy.
How quickly fates can change.
Roussel, a native of Roubaix, France, started the season for Dallas’ AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, to rave his reviews. His impressive speed, tenacity and toughness made him both a pest to opposing teams and an invigorating spark plug to his own, while his keen hockey sense, dogged work ethic and faceoff prowess made him a versatile cog at both ends of the ice and in all situations. These attributes, and the 19 points and +4 rating in 43 games that were the result of them, made Roussel one of Dallas’ original call-ups for training camp when the NHL’s lockout ended in January, a move that came as a huge shock considering other top Stars forward prospects such as Matt Fraser and Alex Chiasson didn’t get the same offer.
Roussel didn’t make the Stars’ roster out of camp but got his chance a couple of weeks later and wasted no time in making a statement that he deserved to be there, scoring this beautiful goal against the Phoenix Coyotes in his NHL debut:
His play has reached it’s highest point as of late with seven points in his last seven games, the most recent of which, an assist, came on an Erik Cole goal in a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.
The game also saw Roussel’s third fighting major of the season, against a much bigger opponent in Blues forward Chris Stewart.
The fight received accolades from Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan for bringing energy to a team that was in need of it as they trailed 1-0 in the first period.
“The reason he’s having success is because he does everything right,” said Gulutzan about Roussel after the win, according to Dallas Stars Inside Edge. “He works extremely hard and he’s fearless. It helped our bench to know that we have guys committed to do whatever it takes to win.”
“I think [Antoine] Roussel’s fight definitely gave us a lift,” added Roy. “They were chipping everything in, and they’ve got big bodies and were getting in on our defencemen and working us down low. And we tried to do the same on the other end but they were doing a good job defending. And Roussel gave us a good fight and it gave us a boost. Then we got that goal by Cole and we took off after that.”
It is often said that some hockey players have a special poise, one that allows them to escalate their game to its peak levels when they need to the most, usually against all odds and in the face of daunting pressure and adversity. Players like Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby quickly come to mind. While Roussel certainly doesn’t have the sheer talent of a player like Toews or Crosby, when watching him play in Dallas you see glimpses of that same sort of clutch poise. No matter how unexpected and improbable his success at the NHL level is, Roussel is constantly digging deep and finding ways to consistently play to the very best of his ability.
While it remains to be seen whether this surprisingly successful pace will be sustainable as the season moves on, Roussel has made it loud and clear that he will do whatever it takes to prove that he belongs in the NHL.