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Does Antoine Roussel Still Have a Role With the Vancouver Canucks?

Roussel had a difficult 2019-20 after a strong 2018-19 season. Does he still fit in the team’s future plans?

Vancouver Canucks v Minnesota Wild Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

When Antoine Roussel was signed to a $12 million / 4 year deal prior to the 2018-19 season, the Vancouver Canucks were hoping that he would add a level of energy and grit that they felt the team lacked. He had enjoyed six solid season in that role for the Dallas Stars and the Canucks were hoping that he could help insulate the young studs.

In his first season with the Canucks he quickly became a fan favourite with his gritty and exciting play. Roussel plays with his heart on his sleeve and Canucks fans took a liking to him.

Now we are halfway through Roussel’s contract and many point to it as another example of general manager Jim Benning’s wasteful spending on bottom-six forwards. This last season caused plenty of people to sour on Roussel and now he may be on the outside looking in on the Canucks future plans.

So what happened? Why was this season such a disaster for Roussel and does he still have a place in the team’s plans? Let’s take a closer look at what Roussel does well and if he can continue to perform in that way.

Roussel’s Ups and Downs

Rousell is no fun to play against. Never was that more obvious than during this year’s playoff series against the Las Vegas Golden Knights as he was a constant pest, especially towards Golden Knights tough guy Ryan Reaves.

But just being a pest isn’t enough to secure a roster spot in today’s NHL and Roussel does bring other attributes to the table. He’s a sneaky fast skater who can surprise defenders with his ability to get to top speed and create an opportunity on the rush.

A look at Roussel’s shot map displays his style of play well. Much of his impact is centred in the dirty area around the net and he’s not really a threat from anywhere around the perimeter.

Roussel’s Shot Chart from 2019-20
Thanks to HockeyViz.com

Coach Travis Green did occasionally use Roussel as a penalty killer during the 2018-19 season and that was the most successful year of his career as he scored 9 goals and had 22 assists, good for 31 points in 65 games while playing a middle-six agitator role.

To add some more context to those impressive numbers, 18 of Roussel’s 22 assists were primary and he only started 45% of his shifts in the offensive zone. In short, he was a great fit on the wing as a guy that chipped in offensively and made the Canucks tougher to play against.

He ended that great season with a devastating injury to his knee which kept him out of action until December of the 2019-20 season, when he would return with a bang as he scored three goals in his first two games.

However he would struggle the rest of the season as he scored only 5 goals and had 6 assists in the remaining 39 games of the shortened season. In the playoffs Roussel wasn't much better as he contributed only four points in the seventeen games. Why did Roussel’s game fall off and what can the Canucks do to put him in the best position to succeed?

What changed between 2018-19 and 2019-20?

While some may point to Rousell’s injury as a large factor in his declining play - and I don’t want to discredit the difficulty in returning from a major injury like that - the stats tell a different story.

During the 2018-19 season Roussel got to play plenty of minutes with now-captain Bo Horvat compared to this year when he was slotted more in the bottom-six. When we look at the difference between how Roussel played with Horvat compared to when he was with other linemates in 2018-19, the difference is shocking.

Roussel With/Without Horvat 18-19

Roussel with/without Horvat TOI CF% FF% GF% XGF% HDCF% Off Zone %
Roussel with/without Horvat TOI CF% FF% GF% XGF% HDCF% Off Zone %
Rousell 18-19 5-on-5 W Horvat 268:16 Mins 54.1 57.25 75 58.82 58.89 31.91
Rousell 18-19 5-on-5 W/O Horvat 549:34 Mins 47.04 46.7 43.48 45.27 49.46 43.51
Roussel’s 5-on-5 with/without Horvat Noah Strang using data from naturalstattrick.

Roussel and Horvat controlled 75% of the goals at 5-on-5 when they played together and dominated possession of the puck. The duo’s stats look even more impressive when you consider that they started less than a third of their shifts in the offensive zone. Without Horvat, Roussel’s production fell off a cliff and he really struggled to control the play even though he started in more attacking positions.

Roussel’s Future

It’s clear that Roussel and Horvat showed strong chemistry and that the two played well together. With Tanner Pearson stapled to one of Horvat’s wings, but the other one potentially up for grabs after Tyler Toffoli’s departure there could be a space for Roussel to join that line.

On the other hand, the Canucks have plenty of young wingers who deserve a shot in the top-six and with the plan for Vasily Podkolzin to make the jump across the sea sometime this year, Roussel looks like he will probably be pushed into a smaller role.

$3 million is a bit hefty for the production Roussel brings away from Horvat but the Canucks should be hopeful that he can find similar chemistry with another one of their young players. Roussel’s excellent 2018-19 season may be more of a testament to Horvat’s talent and drive than anything else, and if he cannot find similar success with any of the young centres on the roster it may be getting close to the time for him to go.