Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Prospect Pursuit: Charles-Olivier Roussel: Plenty of Skill. Not Enough Room.

TORONTO - OCTOBER 26: Dennis Wideman  of the Florida Panthers skates up the ice during game action against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre October 26, 2010 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Leafs won 3-1. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

With an already stacked defense, there may be no room for Charles-Olivier Roussel to crack the Nashville Predators lineup.  But I wouldn’t tell that to him if I were you.  For him, everyone is fair game and he’s got as good a shot as any make the “Big Show.”
It is, without question, that the Nashville Predators have one of the top NHL defensive corps in the game today, but what is more impressive is their defensive prospect depth.  Names like Jon Blum, Ryan Ellis, and Cody Franson may jump out at you, but the player you might want to keep an eye out for is the one who is talked about the least.  
Roussel’s rookie season, in 2007-08, with the QMJHL’s Shawinigan Cataractes left much to be desired.  He posted a mere 16 points in 50 games which was unlike Charles-Olivier’s style of play.  But things would soon change for the better as Roussel exploded the following year with 44 points in 68 games, all the while accruing 77 penalty minutes.  But where he really shined was in the playoffs, chipping in wherever he could, securing 18 points.  He followed up the stellar season with yet another spectacular performance where fans saw him score 51 points in 64 games while tacking on 70 more PIM’s.  He has shown that his skill set is a valuable commodity for those defenseman who want to achieve the ultimate goal of playing in the NHL and he has slowly climbed up the ranks in Nashville’s prospect system.  So are the Nashville faithful questioning Charles-Olivier Roussel’s ability?...  I didn’t think so.
Prospect Pursuit was fortunate enough to get a chance to interview Charles-Olivier Roussel before the season started:

Prospect PursuitWhen did you start getting into hockey and what made you get into it?

Charles-Olivier Roussel:  I started to play hockey in the street with my neighbors and never stopped.

PP:   What is your favorite hockey movie?

COR Youngblood, because he shows character.

PP:  Who was your favorite team growing up and who were your favorite players?

COR:  My favorite team was the Montreal Canadiens and favorite player Ray Bourque.

PP:  It’s been a long summer, what have you been doing to stay busy?

COR:  I played golf and trained during summer.

Roussel has always been looked upon as a slick, puck-moving defenseman with great vision and the ability to see the play a step ahead of most players.  He does not possess blistering speed on his skates, but at the same time, I wouldn’t bunch him together with the likes of Jody Shelley either, whose skating speed can be timed via sundial.  While he may not be the fastest guy on the ice, he does have great agility and movement to get around players and to set up plays, at which he is most established.  He can control the point very well and find the open man.  He is capable of playing on both the penalty kill as well as the power play, which inevitably leads to points.  But to balance him out as a player, he also brings a tenacity to his game that makes it difficult for opponents to get by him without receiving a hip check or, at the very least, throwing them off balance.

 PPIn a few short sentences, describe yourself as a player. Strengths, weaknesses, style of play, etc.

COR I am a good two-way defenseman.  I can play PP or PK and also hit people.  I need to improve my foot speed and skating.

PP:  Who in the NHL, right now, do you compare yourself to and why?

COR:  I compare myself to Dennis Wideman because he is a good two way player.

PP:  How does playing in the QMJHL benefit your game? Explain briefly.

COR:  I like playing in the QMJHL because they are some good players that compete.

PP:  What do you think you have to do to crack the top 6 this season?

COR I don’t think that I can crack the line-up this year but I want to give a good impression and come back strong next year.

What the experts say:

Dirk Hoag, editor of OnTheForecheck.com, “Probably the role that Preds fans hope Roussel eventually steps into is something close to what Dan Hamhuis provided over the last several years; a combination of skilled two-way play and competitive physical work. That said, the road to Nashville is going to be a long one. The Predators are famously patient with their prospects, and Roussel will likely need to prove himself at the AHL level for more than a full season before getting an NHL audition.

Jim Diamond, writer for the Nashville Predators Examiner, “Charles-Olivier Roussel is another solid prospect in the seemingly never-ending line of defensemen in the pipeline of the Nashville Predators, which can be both good news and bad news for a player like Roussel.  I have had the chance to speak with him a couple of times at Nashville ’s Developmental Camp as well as this season’s Training Camp. He is a very engaging and personable young player. Unlike some players who feel a sense of entitlement being a relatively high draft pick, he understands that there is a lot of work to be done if he ever is to become an NHL player.  The Predators are obviously great at identifying and drafting top defensive prospects and that should speak highly of Roussel, but the downside for a player like Charles-Olivier is that he has a lot of current Predators and prospects to climb over if he ever wants to earn a job in Nashville . Five of the seven blueliners currently on the Nashville roster were drafted by the Predators.

            I would like to say that Roussel can be an offensive defenseman who is capable of hitting 40 points, but the reality is, Roussel will be used however the Nashville Predators upper management intend him to be used.  He brings every facet of the game you would like a defenseman so Charles might be specifically sent out on the PP to work his magic at the top of the circle, or the Predators could use him as a shutdown defenseman against the team’s top talents, pushing them to the outside, and using his physicality to prevent scoring chances. 

PPIf could you see yourself doing anything else besides playing hockey what would it be and why? 

CORPlaying football.  I love it

PP:  What is your best moment of your career up to this point?

COR:  When I got drafted

PP:  Who are some players you have played with or against who you think could be fantasy sleeper picks and will produce well in the NHL? 

COR:   I would pick Pekka Rinne.  He is sick.
Dirk Hoag, “[Roussel] also has to compete with a deep talent pool on the right side. Shea Weber is the franchise cornerstone, Kevin Klein was recently rewarded with a 3-year contract, and Cody Franson is making a big impression this season, leading the Nashville defense in scoring. Coming up through the system, Jonathan Blum is talked about as being close to NHL-ready, and of course Ryan Ellis has tremendous offensive upside. There is opportunity to climb that depth chart, but Roussel will have his work cut out for him.

Jim Diamond mentions, “In reality, it will likely be a while before Roussel sees any action with the Predators. In addition to his time with the Montreal Juniors, he has a chance at making Canada ’s World Junior Championship team.
If he does make the team and play at the World Juniors, it will be a great opportunity to see his progress against some world-class competition at the junior-age level.  When his season with the Juniors concludes, he will probably join the Predators AHL affiliate in Milwaukee. If this is the case, it will be an opportunity to show how he matches up against men as opposed to junior-aged players. 
The Predators front office and coaching staff love to say that the road to Nashville runs through Milwaukee , and Roussel will have to travel that road to get here. He certainly has his work cut out for him, and it will be interesting to continue to monitor his progress. 

Roussel will not be seeing any ice time with the Predators this season, however if he is able to produce a successful season in juniors, he might be able to get a stint in the AHL after the season is up.  Charles, after coming into Nashville’s development camp in the summer, has since been returned to the QMJHL where he is playing for his hometown, Montreal Juniors.  And without missing a beat, he already has put up seven points in 16 games this season for his squad.  Expect to see him fighting for a spot on the Predators next season, and if the Preds utilize him to his capabilities it is a good possibility that he could be a very productive offensive defenseman in Nashville for quite some time.

Prospect Pursuit is a series of articles and interviews written by Shawn Reznik.


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