Canucks’ Roussel excited to play after missing camp with concussion

Elias Pettersson scored his first NHL goal and recorded his first NHL assist as the Vancouver Canucks defeated the Calgary Flames.

VANCOUVER – Of the seven years Antoine Roussel has waited to return to the Vancouver Canucks, by far the hardest part has been the last three-and-a-half weeks.

The abrasive winger began his four-year, $12-million-US free agent contract with the Canucks on the injured list after reporting to training camp in September with a concussion, lingering from an accidental collision during a summer scrimmage in Montreal.

It was an embarrassing way to start this new phase of his National Hockey League career.

"You’re right, that wasn’t a good feeling," Roussel said before travelling with the Canucks for their six-game road trip that starts Saturday in Calgary. "That was very stressful for me, for my wife, for my family, you know? It just sucks, you know? You want to get going right away. But when you can’t, you just can’t. You think you’re failing your teammates, failing yourself and the team that just gave yourself nice confidence in a four-year deal. So you feel badly.

"It was not even a big hit, just like a small elbow. I was telling myself: ‘Man, how did that happen?’ That whole month I was out, (I was) rethinking of that. At the end of the day, you have to move forward."

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After skating on his own during training camp and the pre-season, Roussel was finally cleared to practice with the Canucks on Friday. He skated again Saturday morning in Calgary and, as long as there are not setbacks, will play for Vancouver sometime before its difficult road odyssey ends in Winnipeg two Thursdays from now.

Roussel re-launched his pro career at the Canucks’ 2011 training camp.

He moved to Canada from France to play hockey when he was 16 but was undrafted out of junior in Quebec.

He signed a minor-league deal in the Boston Bruins’ organization and spent the 2010-11 season between the American League and ECHL, but was not re-signed.

The Canucks invited Roussel to their 2011 training camp on a tryout. The team also invited Owen Nolan, so Roussel didn’t get much attention. But he showed enough with his hitting and willingness to fight that the Canucks’ farm team, the Chicago Wolves, signed him to an AHL contract.

"It was a great time, it was awesome," he said of that time. "It was a little bit of a surprise for me because the camp before (with the Bruins), I went to main camp and didn’t play any games. This camp I played three games and when I look back, man, I was lucky. Some draft picks don’t even play games. I fought Douglas Murray (of the San Jose Sharks). I think I fought every game in the pre-season, just to get going.

"My last game, I think I was playing with Owen Nolan and Maxim Lapierre. That was my line. (Nolan) must have been so mad playing with me, but I was very excited on the other hand. It’s a good memory. I was fortunate to get some exposure from that and get a deal in the AHL. I had an OK start but a great finish, and got myself a nice NHL deal in Dallas."

Roussel spent the last six seasons with the Dallas Stars becoming, undoubtedly, one of the most disliked players in the NHL for his agitating, physical style. The Stars liked him, though, as Roussel developed enough as a player to consistently provide 12-14 goals and 25-29 points per season while making opponents uneasy.

Last season was his poorest offensively, as the 28-year-old managed just five goals and 17 points in 73 games. When his contract expired, the Canucks snatched him with a hefty free agent offer that surprised a lot of people in hockey.

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For essentially a fourth-line player who has 141 points and 806 penalty minutes in 413 NHL games, the Canucks committed four years to Roussel. As general manager Jim Benning explained, the organization wanted a few depth players with experience and professionalism to help mentor – and, yes, protect – the young players who will be surging into the NHL over the next few years during the biggest rebuild in franchise history.

To this end, Benning also gave an identical four-year, $12-million contract to 32-year-old centre Jay Beagle on July 1, as well as a two-year, $3.8-million deal to 27-year-old winger Tim Schaller. Schaller was a healthy scratch for the season-opener on Wednesday. So of the controversial free agents, only Beagle played in the Canucks’ 5-2 win against the Flames.

"My main focus is play hard, play simple at the start and everything will follow through," Roussel said.

He admitted that he never expected to be back with the Canucks after that 2011 training camp, but neither did he preclude it.

"I had no hard feelings," Roussel said. "I just really wanted to be here but that was not the deal on the table (in 2011). Sometimes timing makes things good. Back then, the fit was good in Dallas right away and now the fit is good here. I’m just excited to be back. This organization always had a special place in my heart."

He’ll feel even better when he has a place in its lineup.

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