Antoine Roussel was considered pretty much a lock for a roster spot coming into this season, but he’s not taking anything for granted. He’s always had to fight to make the roster during his career, and in his mind this season is no different.
“Every time in my career that’s been the focus. You are never sure of your place and that’s the mentality I come here with,” Roussel said. “With the games I played last year, I obviously feel more comfortable. But that doesn’t mean anything at the end, so I’ve got to hold onto it and really push hard and keep the spot for me.”
Roussel earned a spot on the Dallas roster early last season after getting called up from the Texas Stars, where he played during the NHL lockout. He scored his first NHL goal on the third shift of his first NHL game. He brought speed and energy to the lineup, and developed a reputation as an agitator. He ended up playing 39 NHL games last season, registering 14 points (7 goals, 7 assists) and picking up 85 penalty minutes.
“It’s always fun to come into a new team and have a little bit of success,” Roussel said. “My teammates helped me out all season, the veterans helped me out getting into the group. That was huge. From the first day I felt really comfortable with the boys, and that was a big part of it.”
Roussel, who was born in France, is just one of eight native French players to ever suit up in the NHL. His family moved to Canada when he was 15-years-old. He played major junior hockey in Quebec and then turned pro, playing two years in the AHL before catching the attention of the Stars, who signed him to a two-year, two-way contract in the summer of 2012.
The 23-year-old forward’s feisty style of play made him a hit with many Stars fans, and he enhanced his reputation among the faithful with a unique gesture during the offseason. After telling some fans who were interested in buying his jersey that he would be keeping the No. 60 he wore last season, the Stars asked him to change to a lower number this season and he ended up with No. 21. Since Roussel didn’t keep his promise, he offered to cover the cost of anyone who wanted to change to a No. 21 Roussel jersey.
“I felt I betrayed those people and making that offer was a good thing to do,” Roussel said.
It didn’t take long for new Stars coach Lindy Ruff to become a fan of Roussel as well. Roussel has been solid in the preseason, registering two goals and one assist in four games. Ruff singled out Roussel as one of the guys who has been making a case for more ice time.
“Two guys have pushed into the offensive category. One would be Roussel, and the other guy would be (Cody) Eakin that are taking that step out of that third or fourth (line) and saying I need more ice time,” said Ruff. “You can’t help love Roussel’s energy in a game and how hard he plays. You’d like to reach inside and grab half that energy and stick it in some other guys.”
Energy will always be a part of what Roussel brings to the ice. He seems to be one of those guys who just can’t sit still. And he doesn’t want to sit still when it comes to his role as a hockey player.
“I always try to get better. Some other guys have told me that you don’t want to stay complacent in the role you have, you should look forward and try to get more all the time,” Roussel said. “That’s what I try to do every time I go on the ice. I try to get better at my skill level, try to improve around the net, better shooting and better puckhandling. When you play with good players, you don’t want to break plays.
Roussel got a taste of a bigger role while playing for France at the 2013 World Championship. He scored two goals and picked up an assist in seven games in the tournament, and one of those goals was the game-winner in a huge upset win over Russia.
“The first year I had a good role, but it wasn’t kind of that big,” Roussel said. “Last year I was a leader and guys look to me because I play (in the NHL) and they want to see what I am capable of and they had expectations of me. It was good to have that kind of pressure.
“It felt good to beat the Russians. I can tease Sergei (Gonchar) with that, but not too much. Playing against Team Canada and Team USA, those are good players. Playing against those teams in a good role is good experience for sure.”
But Roussel doesn’t want to repeat that experience any time soon. He said he told his French teammates he doesn’t expect to see them at the 2014 tournament.
“Hopefully this year I don’t go there, we go to the playoffs,” Roussel said. “I told them last year that I am not coming back.”
But first things first -- he’s still has work to do to nail down his place on the Stars.
“I know I played last year,” Roussel said, “but I don’t take anything for granted.”
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars.