Coming off of the worst offensive season of his career, Antoine Roussel is now set to feature in the Vancouver Canucks’ bottom six as a veteran presence with attention to detail in the defensive zone.
After injuring his knee at the end of the 2018-19 season, Roussel made his return to the Canucks on December 3rd. That was the night that Alex Burrows had his name and number put into the ring of honour. Roussel’s return to the lineup was one of the most heart-warming stories of the 2019-20 season.
Antoine Roussel, Burrows' pal and spiritual successor, points to Burrows' brand new spot in the ring of honour as he celebrates the opening goal. pic.twitter.com/t2y0ANIZer
— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) December 4, 2019
During the regular season, Roussel averaged just 11:50 of ice time per game. He was not used for one shorthanded shift all season but did see some time on the second power play unit. His minutes dropped even more when the Canucks got into the playoffs. Through 17 games, Roussel averaged just 7:26 and tallied up eight minor penalties and three 10 minute misconducts for a total of 46 penalty minutes.
Head Coach Travis Green made a decision to not play Roussel late in games and he rarely saw ice in the third periods of games. Through the 17 postseason games, Roussel saw over 10 minutes of ice time only once.
Now Roussel comes into training camp healthy and with a chance to win a spot in the lineup where he can make an impact with more than his mouth.
Antoine Roussel Now
He came out with a bang last season, putting up three goals in his first two games back in December. After a week or so it seemed like Roussel was not quite ready for a return. His previously injured knee seemed to give him problems as the season went on.
Roussel needs to be able to skate at 100% to be an impact bottom six player. He brings a ton of energy to the lineup and if that energy is aimed in the right direction, he can really get under the opponents’ skin and piss them off with his constant chirping.
One of Roussel’s strengths is his versatility. He is able to play on a variety of different lines and similar to a chameleon, he can change his style to fit with the line.
Last season, Roussel’s most consistent line combination featured him, Jake Virtanen and Adam Gaudette. The trio played 179:04 of 5-on-5 time together and had a positive control of the goal share (9GF-7GA).
In a limited time, there was a lot of success between Zack MacEwen and Roussel. Perhaps with Virtanen graduating to a top six role, it will open up the chance to see a Roussel-Gaudette-MacEwen trio as a bottom six group that can bang on the forecheck and score when the opportunity arises. There’s a ton of different options for Roussel in this Canucks lineup.
Tyler Motte has been used alongside Jay Beagle and Brandon Sutter for a majority of his time here in Vancouver but slotting Roussel in to play with Sutter and Beagle may be an option as camp comes to a close. The Canucks liked what they saw from Tyler Motte in the playoffs and could reward him with some middle six time. This would open up the door for the Canucks to have a fourth line of three veteran players who could theoretically slow the game down for Travis Green.
The Best of 2021 Roussel
Getting 25-30 points from Roussel would be a huge boost to the Canucks 5-on-5 offensive output. Even though Roussel was 12th in power play ice time last season, I don’t think he will see as much time this season as the Canucks have some youth options to throw out on the second unit.
In 54 minutes of power play time last season, he only added one goal and a second assist. That was some of the worst power play production out of any Canucks player.
In this best-case situation, I see Roussel playing on a third line with Gaudette along with one of MacEwen or Virtanen. This third line would have three players that all skate with pace and have decent enough hands to score goals at a relatively high rate for a third line.
This scenario also has Roussel being healthy for all 56 games. He battled with his knee injury last season but now has had an extended offseason and should be 100% healthy at training camp, even if he is trying to get out of bag skates:
— clarissa! (@quinnsedgework) December 23, 2020
The Worst of 2021 Roussel
Though we have talked about Roussel’s versatility in the Canucks lineup, that could also be a detriment for his offensive production. There could be a lot of games where Roussel is saddled up with Sutter and Beagle. He could be in the offensive black hole but still make an impact if he is able to boost the energy of that fourth line.
With potential newcomers like Nils Höglander and Jayce Hawryluk, Roussel may just be dropped in the depth charts. The Canucks like what Roussel can bring to the team but there is some momentum in other bottom six wingers like Tyler Motte and Zack MacEwen. If one of Höglander, Hawryluk, Kole Lind or Loui Eriksson makes enough impact at training camp then Roussel could easily be the odd man out of this lineup.
I think he currently sits above these players in Travis Green’s eyes and coming into training camp healthy will help him keep that spot in the lineup, but there is a chance he is not one of the top eight wingers for the Canucks on opening night. That would be a surprise for sure but this year is going to bring a lot of shocking moments.
What else does a successful 2021 for Roussel look like?
Make an impact on special teams: Through the first seven seasons of his career, Roussel was a penalty killer. We’ve all seen the way he plays and it makes a lot of sense that he would be a fit on a team’s shorthanded unit. After a horrendous first year with the Canucks, he only got 25 seconds of penalty kill time in 2019-20. Having Roussel be a contributor on the penalty kill would be added value to his impact on the team as a whole. This would also help limit Tanner Pearson and J.T. Miller’s penalty kill time. Roussel has the smarts and aggressiveness to be a penalty killer. It’s just going to be tough to get that idea back into Travis Green’s head after allowing 11.63 goals per 60 minutes in his first season on the Canucks’ penalty kill. In that 2018-19 season, the on-ice save percentage while shorthanded with Roussel on the ice was 0.771% so it’s only up from there.
Mouthguard: It doesn’t take a genius to see that Roussel impacts the game with his mouth. He loves to get under the opponents’ skin and can create momentum from his chirping. If he is able to find the happy medium of being a pest while also adding momentum to his team with his antics then he will be very effective in the lineup. He will need to tone it down at time because he can’t keep putting the Canucks shorthanded in this short, 56 game season. Roussel had 43 penalty minutes in 41 games and that seems like a decent balance between crossing the line and also impacting the flow of the game. He adds that bite that the Canucks have been missing for years.
What Might Get in the Way?
New Guys: With some wingers like Hawryluk, Höglander, MacEwen and Lind now in the mix it could push Roussel down the lineup and if Green wants to go with Eriksson in a fourth line role over Roussel then he could find himself up in the press box. It’s an outside chance but still very possible to see him be a healthy scratch for some games this season.
ACL Troubles: It’s 2020, so ACL injuries aren’t as bad as they were back in the day. This type of knee injury can still make an impact on how much a player can trust their own body or limit their recovery time as well. The two extended breaks will help Roussel as it has now been over 20 months since the knee injury. He will be back at his best but he is now on the wrong side of 30 and could have lost a step during those 20 months.
Right now there is a bottom six spot for Roussel, if he is able to add penalty killing to his toolbelt then there is even more reason to keep him in the lineup. He will have to have a good showing at camp and that is a likely scenario for a guy who works hard every single time he steps on the ice.
This summer at training camp he was consistently out on the ice late after practice either working on breakaway attempts or sending passes across the slot to snipers like Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson. He’s a great teammate and one of the most fun players to deal with off the ice as well. Seeing him and Nate Schmidt chirp it out at training camp will be entertaining, to say the least.
Let’s hope his offensive side takes a step back toward what it was in his first year with the Canucks and his versatility in the lineup helps find him added ice time.