The Dallas Stars are full of pleasant surprises this season. One of the best surprises has been the play of forward Antoine Roussel.
Although Roussel is mostly known as an agitator, the 24-year-old has shown he is capable of more this season. The lockout-shortened season was his first stint in the NHL. He made an impression in the AHL and the Stars signed him July 2, 2012. He spent most of last season as a fourth-liner with speed, energy, grit and a mean streak.
Roussel tallied seven goals and 14 points in 39 games last season. Fourteen points may not sound like a lot, but it is impressive for a sandpaper-type player on the fourth line. This season, he has shown his offensive capabilities. He plays a big part of Dallas’ second line, their most surprising line of the season. He, Cody Eakin and Ryan Garbutt have made a habit of consistently providing relentless puck pursuit, an intimidating forecheck, blazing speed and bruising physicality.
With a bigger role and an increased average ice time of 13:04 per game, Roussel’s offensive numbers have also increased this season. Through 65 games, he has 12 goals and 12 assists for 24 points. He has been hitting less, but that is because he is picking and choosing his checks rather than recklessly throwing his body around. He registered 75 hits in 39 games last season compared to 120 hits this season.
Roussel’s improvements at shooting and taking penalties display his growth. He is 11th on the team with 94 shots compared to 46 last season. He struggled with ill-advised penalties earlier this season until coach Lindy Ruff sat down to talk with him. Roussel’s game noticeably changed as he kept his composure more often and took fewer penalties in the offensive zone.
He has even become a dependable penalty-killer for the Stars. He has been used on the first PK unit with Vernon Fiddler and even registered two short-handed assists so far this season. Ruff is not afraid to send Roussel and the second line out in the final minutes of a close game.
Not lost in all of his offensive and defensive growth is his ability to still get under the opponent’s skin. Roussel’s physicality, relentless drive and mouth make him a hated opponent every game. The best example was the game at the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 3. He annoyed and infuriated the Blackhawks all night with three hits, a fight and seven penalty minutes in addition to constant hassling between whistles. He capped the night off with a game-winning penalty shot goal followed by a taunt to the Chicago fans that did not sit well with the opposing team.
For an undrafted player who started as a fourth-line agitator about a year ago, Roussel’s continued development is one of the most pleasant surprises of the Stars’ season.