When you think of the term “enforcer” in the NHL, your mind generally jumps to players such as John Scott, Cody McLeod, Colton Orr and George Parros. Lots of fighting majors, lots of penalty minutes, very few points and not all that much time on the ice. Stars fans remember Krys Barch as their last true enforcer. So why are more and more teams not using up a roster spot on a lot of these guys? Because there are players like Antoine Roussel out there. Teams no longer want to use a roster spot on a guy who will produce six points in a season with his only job being to scare opponents away from star players. They are now adopting new methods of protecting star players while not feeling like they are wasting a spot on the roster.
There are a couple of names that stand out as the players who are ushering in this new wave of enforcers. I already mentioned Antoine Roussel and the other one this season is Steve Downie. They each have racked up a boatload of penalty minutes this year while still producing goals and points for their teams. They aren’t wasted roster spots and yet not many players want to go toe-to-toe with them either. Antoine Roussel has racked up 11 goals and 22 points this season while Downie has 8 goals and 21 points. Roussel and Downie each have six fighting majors on the season which is tied for third in the NHL. Nobody above them comes very close in terms of point production (Derek Dorsett is the closest to them with 14 points). Another thing that sets them apart from traditional enforcers is that their coaches trust them in all situations. Roussel sees a ton of time on the penalty kill and has even been on the top power-play unit at times during the season.
[table id=Roussel1 /]
This table compares two of the “new wave enforcers” with two of the more traditional enforcers. Now Dorsett is probably somewhere in between, but the table shows him playing significantly more sheltered minutes than Roussel or Downie. Roussel plays the toughest even strength minutes out of all four guys both in terms of the quality of competition he faces and his ratio of defensive zone starts versus his offensive zone starts. Of all four players on that table, Roussel also has the highest corsi-for % with Downie just a shade behind him. Both players have significantly higher corsi’s than Dorsett and McLeod despite playing much tougher minutes.
So we’ve highlighted the difference between the new enforcer versus the old enforcer, the new ones score points and simply have a better overall game. What sets Roussel and Downie apart from the pests of the game? Pests score points, agitate opponents and rack up penalty minutes too. The big difference is the fighting ability and the overall willingness to drop the gloves for a teammate. One of the more well-known pests in the league is Brad Marchand. Marchand has been a pretty good point producer so far in his career and he is also incredible at agitating opposing players. While he is fantastic at what he does, I would in no way describe him as one of the new wave enforcers in the NHL and that is because he is completely missing the fighting aspect of it. Marchand has yet to pick up a fighting major this season and quite frankly the Boston Bruins don’t look for him to do that anyway. One of the major points in having an enforcer on your team is to protect the star players. While agitators like Marchand are excellent in their roles, players like Roussel and Downie take it a step further by their willingness to drop the gloves for their teammates.
Many teams in the NHL today are trending towards the Antoine Roussel style of “enforcer” and for good reason. The effectiveness of the physical play and energy a traditional enforcer brings is still there while adding solid play at both ends of the ice. We have already discussed Roussel’s offensive ability, but what about his play in his own zone? He gets more defensive zone starts than any other forward on the Dallas Stars and Lindy Ruff has shown a tremendous amount of trust in Roussel in key moments of the game. Roussel is tied for 8th in the entire league in blocked shots by forwards with 45 blocked shots so far this season. Nobody with the penalty minutes Roussel has is even close to him in regards to blocked shots among forwards.
While they may not be as physically imposing as some of the traditional enforcers, Antoine Roussel and Steve Downie are getting the enforcer job done and a whole lot more. Traditional enforcers like John Scott are still out there but in the coming years I would expect most teams to have shifted towards the new style of enforcer. Teams, especially playoff teams, are just so deep in today’s NHL that you really cannot afford to use a roster spot on a player that really isn’t going to contribute much outside of fighting. The new style of NHL enforcer has arrived and Antoine Roussel is leading the charge.