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Photo Credit: Sportsnet.ca

Reminder: The Canucks Could Have Had Antoine Roussel For The Entirety Of His Career—For Free!

Despite some understandable skepticism related to the large contracted handed to him this summer, Antoine Roussel has been an undoubtedly positive addition to the Vancouver Canucks organization. He trails only Elias Pettersson in both primary assists and penalties drawn—in addition to leading the entire NHL in penalty minutes—which is just a small sampling of the diverse talents Roussel has added to the franchise.

Most observers have taken note of Roussel’s contributions by now, but what many fans may not be aware of is that this is actually his second go-round with the Canucks organization. Coming out of Roubaix, France, Roussel has obviously taken a nonconventional path to the big league—but part of that path included a pitstop in Vancouver in which he solidified his future as an NHL player. However, that future would be with the Dallas Stars after the Canucks let Roussel slip through their fingers—and thus missed out on perhaps the best years of his career.

Pre-Penticton Career 

A lot of people probably assume that Antoine Roussel is French-Canadian, but he’s actually France-French and didn’t move to Quebec until he was 16 years old. He played midget hockey that year for the Collège Charles-Lemoyne Riverains in Longueuil, though it took just 12 games before he was called to join the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL.

Roussel would go on to play four seasons for the Sagueneens, never cracking 50 points on a season and never garnering any legitimate interest for the NHL Entry Draft. In his final junior season, Roussel picked up 47 points and 131 PIMs in 68 games, then went on a tear in the playoffs with nine points in seven games. This was enough for the AHL’s Providence Bruins to offer him a contract, which he signed on August 9, 2010—just five years after he had moved to Canada.

Roussel struggled to make an impact with the Bruins, earning just eight points in 42 games and spending five games in the ECHL with the Reading Royals. At the end of the 2010-11 season, Providence let Roussel go back to the free agent market—which left him open to an invitation from the Canucks for a tryout at the 2011 Penticton Young Stars tournament.

At The Penticton Young Stars

Every year, the Vancouver Canucks fill out their roster for the Penticton Young Stars tournament with a number of amateur tryouts—few of which make enough of an impact to earn any sort of future with the franchise. Antoine Roussel is one of the rare exceptions.

In 2011, he caught the eye of Canucks’ management with his trademark high energy play, dropping the gloves twice and throwing his body in every possible direction. With few of the legitimate prospects standing out in Penticton, the Canucks invited a handful of the Young Star ATOs to their main training camp— Marc-Andre Zanetti, Karel St. Laurent, Nathan Longpre, and Roussel.

Main Camp And Preseason With The Canucks 

Antoine Roussel was in a difficult position as he entered the 2011 Vancouver Canucks training camp. As a player whose primary trade is physicality, it’s hard to demonstrate your skills in a bunch of scrimmages against your teammates—but Roussel obviously showed enough to stick around for multiple preseason games. He put up zero points and a staggering 22 penalty minutes across three exhibition matches before being cut from the team.

A New Pacific Pugilist?

The Canucks lost two valuable role players in the offseason of 2011, as both Tanner Glass and Rick Rypien—who would tragically lose his life that same summer—left via unrestricted free agency. That left the team in need of another pugilistic player or two entering the 2011/12 season, and the 2011 training camp had no shortage of candidates. It was going to be a tough crowd for Antoine Roussel to stand out from.

Aaron Volpatti was already signed and knocking on the door. Free agency saw the Canucks add both Steve Pinizzotto and Byron Bitz, and an offseason trade saw them swap Sergei Shirokov for the feisty Mike Duco. They also signed a notable undrafted prospect of a hard-hitting nature in the summer of 2011—Darren Archibald. On top of all that, the Canucks also invited Owen Nolan and Todd Fedoruk to training camp on PTOs.

Despite all this competition, Roussel still managed to stand out in preseason with his consistently energetic physicality and willingness to drop the gloves with just about anyone—which left several fans with warm memories of Rypien’s early days with the team. He whooped former Canuck Guillaume Desbiens in a memorable scrap, and then stepped up to defend Max Lapierre against the monstrous Doug Murray. The fanbase began to make some noise about keeping the scrappy Frenchman around, but it was not enough to prevent his inevitable cut from the roster.

Thrown To The Wolves 

This all led to the Canucks offering Antoine Roussel a spot with the Chicago Wolves—their AHL affiliate at the time. Roussel fought like never before—racking up 177 PIMs and nine points over 61 games with the Wolves—but he failed to force himself higher on the organization’s depth chart.

To make matters worse, the Canucks added both Dale Weise and Zack Kassian during the course of the 2011-12 season, knocking Roussel even further down the ranking truculent wingers. By season’s end, Roussel wasn’t even dressing regularly for the Wolves, and for the second consecutive year he found himself being let go from his expiring AHL contract and entering the free agent market—though this time around, he’d garner significantly more interest. 

The Stars Step In

The Dallas Stars had obviously kept an eye on Antoine Roussel while he toiled away in the Vancouver organization, because they didn’t wait long to snatch him from unrestricted free agency. Just one day after the rush of 2012’s Free Agent Frenzy, Roussel signed a two-year, two-way contract with the Stars for near-league minimum—and the rest is history.

It only took Roussel half a season with the Texas Stars before he earned his first callup to the big league—and that was all it took for him to become a permanent fixture in their lineup. Almost immediately, Roussel started scoring at a rate he hadn’t approached since his junior days, and his PIM totals remained astronomical.

Over five-and-a-half seasons with Dallas, Roussel quickly became a consistent threat to score a dozen goals and about 25 points—an unexpected offensive awakening that nobody, including the Vancouver front office, could have predicted and something that he showed no sign of while part of the Canucks organization. That being said, the other components of Roussel’s game that made him a fan favourite in Dallas—boundless energy, the ability to pester opponents, and a willingness to defend his teammates whenever necessary—were all on display during his time with the club. 

Return To Vancouver

 When the Canucks re-added Antoine Roussel to their organization in the 2018 offseason, it cost them $12 million over four seasons and a modified no trade clause. However, if they had just recognized the diamond in the rough they possessed during the 2011/12 season, perhaps they would have had Roussel on the roster all along—and maybe then he would have signed for a hometown discount. Either way, the Canucks missed out on Roussel’s best years by letting him escape to free agency, making him another one that got away—even if he came back to the fold eventually.

  • Goon

    Interesting history, but I don’t think you can fault the Canucks for letting a guy with 9 points in 61 games at the AHL level walk. Nor is there any reason to think he’d be on a notably different contract now.

    • Peachy

      Agree… This is a good article about Roussel’s journey, but as CA consistently advocates, asset decisions are about the process. Russel was a good bet to let walk.

      He is a reminder that sometimes good bets go bad, but if the Canucks signed lots of players with Roussel’s 2011 stats, they would be a very bad team indeed.

  • DJ_44

    To point out the obvious stupidity in the title; the Canucks gave up no assets to acquire Rousell.

    They paid him market value as a UFA. Had he remained in the Canucks organization, I presume they would have had to pay him a salary, and if they wanted his services as a UFA after a very successful 5 year stint in the NHL, they would have had to pay him like they did this summer.

  • Kootenaydude

    Perhaps his best year will be this year or maybe next year. He’s already beaten last years points total and is on track to beat his best season of 29 points. Oh, I must have forgotten. CA believes players peak at 22 years old.

    • “On average, offensive players peak around age 23-24” is just an objective fact, and does not equal “every player peaks at 22”.

      A statistical average is just that, an average, and it doesn’t mean every player peaks at exactly the same age. Nor does every position and style of play peak at the same age.

  • Too much hyperbole injected by the author. I disagree with the take that Roussel was “a diamond in the rough” back in 2011. He’s not even a diamond now, save those analogies for guys like Pettersson. But I’m happy to see Benning finally get a solid win in the UFA department. Roussel is a really good complimentary depth player and a great replacement for agitators like Dorsett, Burrows, and even Kesler. He’s even on pace to have a career year, points-wise. Well worth the UFA contract if he can keep it up for the rest of his contract.

  • North Van Halen

    It’s a cool history lesson on Roussell but the headline is half baked at best. The fact they had first crack to sign him has no relevance on where he is/how much he cost today.
    More importantly though, could you imagine if Gillis dared to ice a team with Burrows/Kesler/Lappierre/Roussel & Vigneault as coach? That’s a lot smirking, talking and whacking in one place. The league already hated our guts, throwing Roussel into that mix, a guy who actually fights,might have been too much. Add in Zack Kassian and we would might have had a real-life, modern day Slap Shot.

  • wojohowitz

    Taking on big Doug (The Swede) Murray would have gotten everyones attention, much like Scott Walker punching out Michel Petit or Rypien dropping a different hulk. Pre-season is the time to get noticed.

    Also reminds me of Michael Grabner being the last cut from camp twice in a row because Vigneault just couldn`t figure out where to slot him. Gillis moved him for Ballard and a decade later he was still producing. Tough call in training camp and mistakes do get made.

      • Bud Poile

        Grabner,Bernier and a first for Ballard but one of my favourites was a young Kevin Connauton and a 2nd for 16 games of Derek Roy.
        Connauton went on to play in over 300 NHL games and is still in the league today.
        Bernier went on to play 350 NHL games and is in the AHL today.
        Grabner is close to 600 NHL games now after Gillis traded him and has scored 272 NHL points.

        • Yes Bernier and Connauton have played, but context is important. Both have been 3rd pairing/4th line players since they left the Canucks organization – neither brings anything that isn’t easily replaced by a bargain UFA signing or waiver wire pickup.

          Grabner was a real loss, and the hilarious part about that trade was that after being a cornerstone of the trade, Florida waived Grabner and lost him for nothing. So it can always be worse.

      • Dirk22

        It’s the perfect day to bring up the Ballard trade – commonly acknowledged as one of Gillis’ worst trades, if not the worst.

        According to the logic on the other page this trade would actually be considered ‘not too bad’ or a ‘wash.’ Grabner never played for the Panthers as he was waived shortly after the move, their first rounder Howden never really made it and now plays in the KHL, and Bernier had but one below mediocre season for the Panthers.

        So there you have it. I for one would say this move was a terrible trade in retrospect but there’s some amazing new logic being displayed which apparently says otherwise. Maybe Gillis should ask for his job back?

        • Bud Poile

          Five years have passed without an NHL gig for Mike Gillis-in any one of the 32 NHL cities.
          Gillis lovers continue their fantasy like Gillis went back in time and scouted and developed instead of becoming a lawyer and player agent.

        • truthseeker

          Actually that’s not how that logic works Dirk.

          Here…let’s use big dumb language so you can understand it better.

          Gudbranson – BAD. McCann – BAD. TRADE: Canucks – BAD Panthers – BAD Therefore: Wash for both sides and players. Canucks lose no value.

          Ballard – BAD. Grabner – GOOD. Trade: Canucks: BAD because Grabner – GOOD Canucks lose good player.

          Good? How bout this….

          If I trade you a pile of dog sh….. for your pile of cat sh…… did either of us “lose” or “win” that trade?

          Was that the “worst trade you ever made”? Trading me that cat sh….. for my dog sh….?

          man I really regret trading my dog sh….for that cat sh…..I really lost out on that one. That dog sh….had so much potential.

          • Dirk22

            truthseeker – loving your simple algorithm for assessing trades (although for your example you didn’t actually input the whole trade). Does it work for all trades? Can you do me a favour and input some other trades in there: Motte trade, Baertchi trade, Goldobin trade, Granlund. Once you conclude players as good or bad it makes it so simple.

            BTW – is it just draft picks that you’re not allowed to use hindsight for? It seems you use them to assess trades so I just wanted to clarify your rules.

            And for a bonus question – where do you stand now on the Boeser for Dahlin trade?

          • McCann’s on pace for a 35-40 point season as a 22-year-old 3rd line centre AND the Canucks pissed away a high draft pick that could have been used to take a number of solid NHL players. Gudbranson has been one of the worst defencemen in the league since coming to the Canucks (and before that – Travis Yost wrote prior to the trade that the Gudbranson/Mitchell pairing was the worst in the NHL). So spinning this trade like it’s a wash is just nonsense – it was a terrible trade.

            I thought the Ballard trade at the time was a good one. Just about everyone did. Ballard was a good player in Florida, and his issues after coming to Vancouver were primarily that he was a poor fit for Vigneault’s system and then had a run of injuries for the first time in his entire career (one of the reasons he was brought in was his reputation for staying healthy). With hindsight, it’s a bad trade, because of Ballard’s poor fit and Grabner’s emergence as a genuinely good scoring winger. But at the time, given the Canucks badly needed stability on defence (they terrible injury luck the past two seasons, were losing Mitchell, and were not yet sure they’d get Hamhuis) and given that they had a real surplus of scoring wingers, it made a lot of sense.

          • truthseeker

            No Goon he’s on pace for 33 points. 17/42 x 82 = 33.2 So 33 points. His GF% which people here seem to think is an important number because that’s what they use to say Guddy is sh….(which he is)….is 40%. That’s sh….t too. A second round pick is a “high pick”? Second round picks have about a 80% chance of never being anything so cut the garbage about them being “solid NHL players”. That’s just completely false and goes against what the numbers say.

            Source for that Yost statement? Because I’ve read the article Yost wrote prior to the trade and he doesn’t mention Mitchell at all. So provide a source for that claim. What he does say in that article is that in terms of possession he was one of the worst in the league, and that his other numbers were “sub standard”.

            “You might place more value in one or two of these stats over others, but the overarching theme here is that Gudbranson has never been able to separate himself from what we would consider a ‘league average’ defender. In some cases he has been significantly worse.”

            But I’ve already admitted Guddy is sh…. So is McCann. His numbers are awful for a guy that’s been in the league for 4 complete years. Has been demoted to the AHL and healthy scratched during that time, and has terrible underlying numbers. He’s done nothing to show he will ever be more than low line filler. You spinning his performance is what is nonsense.

            Sh…t for Sh…t = Sh…t. If it’s a “terrible” trade then it’s a terrible trade for both teams because both teams have nothing that is productive from that trade.

            And exactly. It’s only with hindsight that the Ballard trade was bad. So anyone making the claim that Gillis is a “terrible GM” because the Ballard trade didn’t work out, is an idiot.

          • truthseeker

            Tell me something. Did you think the Ballard trade was terrible at the time it was made? Were you on the message boards posting about what a huge mistake it was going to be?

          • truthseeker

            You’re right Dirk, I didn’t. Because I already told you in the other thread the situation with the 2nd round picks, to which you never responded. The 2nd round pick was a complete failure for Florida (as the VAST majority of second round picks usually are for all teams). So there is no need to say it again. You want to bring the 4th and 5th round picks from that trade into this too? lol.

            Where did I “conclude” Dirk? Haven’t I said about a million times that IF McCann becomes a great player I’ll admit the trade was a loss for us in hindsight? There you go again Dirk with your garbage comprehension and your strawman arguments. Pretty much straight out lying about what I said. You really do that a lot.

            Those trades? Do it yourself Dirk. It will be your first step in learning basic logic.

            There is nothing wrong with using hindsight to say a trade turned out bad for a team. There is something wrong with using hindsight to say a GM made a bad decision about a trade after the fact. That aspect needs to be looked at in it’s own right to make that determination. Context is everything Dirk. At the time, as Goon mentioned, most saw the Ballard trade as a good thing because it addressed a need the canucks had with a player who was pretty good. Understand Dirk? Context is important.

            With the Guddy trade, you only seem capable of seeing the context from one side, and most of that is heavily biased by what his play is now. Yes, there were signs that his play was bad at the time of the trade, but no where near what he’s become.

            But more importantly what you never seem to acknowledge is the McCann side of the story and how this was a kid who was a proven, at minimum distraction, and probably a cancer, in the locker room who the canucks wanted to move on from quickly.

            Context dirk. It matters. If you can’t apply it to your reasoning then you have limited intellect and nothing you say should be taken seriously.

            I like how you think the Boeser thing is some sort of “win” for you….lol….it’s cute dirk. Answer? Of course I trade Boeser for him now. Kid is a rookie D on a 45 point pace. See…he’s actually done something in the NHL to show he belongs. And I know the value of that kind of D.

            Here…I’ll give you another one. Do I trade Boeser for the first over all this year? Potentially Hughes? Nope. Huges is an unproven prospect that hasn’t shown he can play in the NHL. Boeser is scoring at a 36 goal pace this year. So that’s two years in a row he’s at a + 35 goal pace.

            You would trade what looks to be a career 30 to 40 goal scorer for a first over all pick? lol. That’s pretty stupid in my opinion. But hey…over value draft picks all you want Dirk.

        • TheRealPB

          I see what you are doing, but to be honest I actually don’t think that was one of Gillis’ worst moves. I know the deal for Ballard didn’t work out but it was a good bet at the time. He was 26, and had been a really solid player for Phoenix and Florida. I actually thought he was terribly handled by AV and just couldn’t get into games (ironically Oreskovich seemed to get more love, at least in the SCF). Bernier played a bunch more years, but not most of them for Florida and Grabner they lost for nothing too. It was just a useless trade on both ends. If Florida had picked Kuznetsov, Faulk or Anderson with the pick this would be a different conversation. But they didn’t. It wasn’t a good trade for Vancouver but the bigger issue was choosing Mason Raymond over Grabner. And I think the Connaughton trade was probably worse since we got so little out of Roy. I still think this is forest for the trees. Gillis made lots of really good changes to the Canucks, especially on the pro side, but the terrible drafting strategy (especially overagers) and general lack of attention to prospect development were much bigger overall problems than the trades (which really balance out to the better with the Ehrhoff deal)

          • timmay

            Boringggggggg. How many times do you have to be told that GMMG was

            A) NOT hired by the owner to focus on the future or drafting, he was hired to dominate the league and put us over the playoff hump during our window because Nonis couldn’t. He wholly succeeded on much of that and was in fact just one win away from Vancouver immortality.

            B) GMMG NEVER had a top NINE pick in the draft because we were THAT good. When ownership suggested a change in draft strategy Gillis pulled Bo Horvat out of the hat. Fantastic move that set the standard for the franchise to this day.

            Also PB, ever heard of a paragraph ffs?

          • I thought it was a bad trade in that they gave up on Grabner way too soon (11 points in 20 games at the NHL, 53 goals in 142 games in the AHL) in addition to the 1st round draft pick. Was looking forward to seeing both Raymond and Grabner on a speedster scoring line.

          • truthseeker

            That’s what I am saying. It wasn’t a bad move at all at the time. Gillis wanted to add another D man to what was already the deepest D in the league. A decent one at that. The cost for him was pretty good considering. But yeah, it didn’t work out and Grabner became a decent player. It was a good strong move from Gillis which simply didn’t work out.

            Forever, yes that’s true but you gotta give to get right? If that’s the guy the other team wants and you feel you need that D man, then sometimes it’s necessary to give away a guy you don’t want to give away.

  • Kanuckhotep

    I love the way Roussel plays and is another one of those Burrows types who come from nowhere to have a career in the NHL. It wasn’t on Gillis to assess whether Antoine could end up in the show but more on the player himself to stick to it and now he has. A “little train that could” story for sure, every once in awhile a kid will come along and prove to everyone they missed the boat on him. A reasonable signing by Benning for sure.