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.
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.