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Weighing in on a potential Antoine Roussel signing

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He’s a pest of the highest order, but there may be more to Roussel’s game than meets the eye.

Dallas Stars v New Jersey Devils Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

As the free agency period looms less than a week away, some rumours have begun to trickle out, and this one doesn’t involve mega-star John Tavares. In fact, it’s almost the complete opposite, as the Montreal Canadiens may have some interest in the ever-irritating Antoine Roussel of the Dallas Stars.

Roussel has spent the majority of his career in the Stars organization, where he worked his way into a regular NHL role despite being undrafted. In his time in the league he’s become one of it’s premier pests, able to get under the skin of opposing players.

With his hard-nosed style of play, and ability to chip in offensively if needed, it’s not hard to see why Marc Bergevin would be interested. Last year his gamble on Nicolas Deslauriers paid off, so adding a player of a similar style to the Habs’ bottom six could be in the cards.

However, there is a lot more to Roussel than meets the eye, and despite fitting the mould of a fourth-line player, he provides far more value on the ice. Playing the majority of his five-on-five time alongside Radek Faksa and Tyler Pitlick (501 out of 820 minutes), Roussel was part of the Stars’ defensive line that handled heavy minutes in their own zone. While Faksa garnered praise for his defensive play, both he and Pitlick received a boost when playing with the French winger.

Antoine Roussel WOWY for 2017-18 season

Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 GP TOI CF CA CF% FF FA FF% SF SA SF% GF GA GF% SCF SCA SCF% HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDGF HDGA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off. Zone Faceoffs Neu. Zone Faceoffs Def. Zone Faceoffs Off. Zone Faceoff %
Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 GP TOI CF CA CF% FF FA FF% SF SA SF% GF GA GF% SCF SCA SCF% HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDGF HDGA HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off. Zone Faceoffs Neu. Zone Faceoffs Def. Zone Faceoffs Off. Zone Faceoff %
Radek Faksa Antoine Roussel Tyler Pitlick 69 501.7666667 478 464 50.74 342 318 51.82 235 243 49.16 21 15 58.33 216 204 51.43 74 76 49.33 16 5 76.19 8.94 93.83 1.028 118 267 181 39.46
Radek Faksa Antoine Roussel w/o Tyler Pitlick 70 77.53333333 64 53 54.7 47 39 54.65 36 26 58.06 0 3 0 32 28 53.33 17 14 54.84 0 3 0 0 88.46 0.885 4 18 23 14.81
Radek Faksa w/o Antoine Roussel Tyler Pitlick 78 283.95 229 243 48.52 164 169 49.25 128 119 51.82 13 3 81.25 101 102 49.75 39 36 52 8 0 100 10.16 97.48 1.076 54 112 129 29.51
Radek Faksa w/o Antoine Roussel w/o Tyler Pitlick 79 128.2666667 113 125 47.48 88 92 48.89 67 64 51.15 8 4 66.67 51 63 44.74 31 24 56.36 5 2 71.43 11.94 93.75 1.057 15 32 56 21.13
w/o Radek Faksa Antoine Roussel Tyler Pitlick 71 55.46666667 57 60 48.72 43 48 47.25 32 33 49.23 0 3 0 29 30 49.15 12 13 48 0 2 0 0 90.91 0.909 13 20 10 56.52
w/o Radek Faksa Antoine Roussel w/o Tyler Pitlick 73 185.8833333 209 155 57.42 130 114 53.28 94 72 56.63 6 5 54.55 107 71 60.11 42 21 66.67 2 2 50 6.38 93.06 0.994 50 46 36 58.14
w/o Radek Faksa w/o Antoine Roussel Tyler Pitlick 80 91.01666667 73 93 43.98 64 70 47.76 48 52 48 3 6 33.33 39 44 46.99 10 20 33.33 2 3 40 6.25 88.46 0.947 9 17 21 30
w/o Radek Faksa w/o Antoine Roussel w/o Tyler Pitlick 82 2592.683333 2503 2382 51.24 1802 1713 51.27 1287 1240 50.93 97 96 50.26 1166 1088 51.73 509 379 57.32 52 39 57.14 7.54 92.26 0.998 901 956 856 51.28

Roussel’s possession metrics are very good, ranking him in the top three on the team in Corsi-for percentage (52.5) and top five in shots-for percentage (51.5), all while receiving the fourth-toughest zonal deployment.

At five-on-five with Roussel, Dallas kept pucks well away from the high-danger areas in front of the net and in the slot area. In fact, outside of one little hot spot near the top of the faceoff circle, opposing teams mustered little to no shot generation when he was on the ice.

Not only is he effective at even strength, but as a penalty-killer Roussel had immense value for Dallas, and can very likely help improve the disastrous Canadiens penalty kill as well. His heatmaps line up quite favourably, and the Habs will take any boost they can get on their near-league-worst penalty-killing unit.

Pucks weren’t going on net from the slot area, and more of the shots were coming from lower-percentage areas on the ice. He isn’t flawless, but the value is clearly there on the defensive side of the puck and on the penalty kill.

Roussel does have some value on the offensive side of the equation. That isn’t to say he’s going to score 25 goals for the Habs, but he can be a solid piece in the bottom six of the lineup. He isn’t going to be a shot-generation machine, but Roussel gets pucks to the net from the dirty areas of the ice, and that is something every coach loves.

HockeyViz.com

Despite being known for his defensive prowess, Roussel’s offensive metrics are actually rather good. When comparing him to the Canadiens’ star winger, Max Pacioretty, they have put up similar on-ice metrics. Pacioretty just happens to be a more polished finisher.

SKATR/Bill Comeau

Looking at their numbers, both players have extremely good possession numbers, and, more impressively, Roussel does it while starting heavily in the defensive zone. While Pacioretty is unsurprisingly better at producing points, it’s worth noting that Roussel himself is no slouch either. His shooting percentage was down from his usual numbers, so it’s also highly likely that Roussel could see his points shoot back up, and chip in a solid 12-15 goals as well.

There are some drawbacks to Roussel coming over as a free agent, namely that he has a tendency to rack up penalty minutes in droves. His 126 penalty minutes and 38 total penalties were both first on the Stars by a wide margin, as were his six fighting majors and four misconducts over the course of the season. Some of these may come as reputation calls, as Roussel is a well-known pest across the league, and some of them come from him straying over the line that separates “physical play” and “dirty hit.”

Much like Andrew Shaw when he joined the club, Roussel would need to find that proper balance between his physical play and making sure he isn’t actively hurting his club in the process. The team can’t make use of his defensive talents if he is sitting in the penalty box multiple times a game.

Our friends over at Dallas Stars site Defending Big D described Roussel as the sort of player you love to have on your team, but when playing against him it’s nothing but hatred. He’s a good presence in all the community events his teams take part in, and that has endeared him to the Stars’ fanbase over the years. Combine these things with his talents on the ice, and it looks like a good situation for the Habs to be in. Assuming his contract is kept reasonable, the Canadiens can lock up a good asset on the wing, whose strengths can help fill in the cracks that widened last season.

If the team is going to be retooling or rebuilding, you could do much worse than bringing in a guy who the fans should immediately latch onto. Especially considering he has fantastic value both on and off the ice.