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Welcome, Kris Russell

The Oilers’ collection of defensemen grows today with Chiarelli’s latest addition

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Dallas Stars at Minnesota Wild
Meet the newest member of the Edmonton Oilers
Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Today we said goodbye to Yak, and then quickly hello to Kris Russell.

The Edmonton Oilers have signed defenseman Kris Russell, an unrestricted free agent most recently with the Dallas Stars, to a one-year, $3.1 million deal. If you are amongst those who believe that cap space was the most valuable thing we got from the subpar bag of party favors that was the Yakupov trade, then you can stretch your mind a bit and consider Russell part of the return. Maybe that makes you feel better about the trade. Then again, I can understand if the thought of another number one draft pick being traded for a defenseman does not make you feel better at all. But remember, optimism must be always when you are an Oilers fan.

On this team, any depth on the blue line is pretty much welcome, especially a veteran presence like Russell on a relatively young defense corps. Though the sentiment I’ve heard around Kris Russell from Flames fans has not been, ahem, entirely positive, there are probably a few main questions circulating around his arrival to Edmonton.

Where does he fit?

This signing is a bit puzzling because of the current depth (yes, there is some!) the Oilers have at his position. The team already has Klefbom, Sekera, and Davidson on the left side, who should all be well ahead of Russell on the depth chart. In addition, Nurse, Reinhart, and Oesterle also also left-shooting defensemen. If they were to have Russell play on the right side, there’s already Larsson, Fayne, and Gryba, so it’s not entirely clear who now needs to be sent down to make space for Russell, especially if they do not intend to move him to his off-side.

However, with the rate at which injuries have been accruing on the team, it would not even be surprising if Kris Russell is the only human alive on the entire roster in a few weeks.

Is he as bad as people say?

Russell was traded to Dallas at the trade deadline this year to shore up the Stars’ thin blue line, in a deal many Stars fans viewed as an overpayment. Defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka (who many view as starting-calibre), forward prospect Brent Pollock, and a conditional second-round pick were the package the Flames got for Russell, which makes the returns from today’s Yakupov trade look somehow even more paltry.

The fact that Calgary was willing to part with him, Dallas passed on him after the season, and he didn’t sign a contract until a few days before the beginning of the regular season doesn’t look real good. Maybe there is a reason no one wanted to sign him, but the Oilers are taking a chance, and the good news is it’s only a one-year deal .

Russell is not really going to be an asset when it comes to putting points on the board, netting 4 goals and 15 assists in 62 games last season with Calgary and Dallas. He’s also not particularly big for a defender; at 5’10” and 170 lb., he’s smaller than Jordan Eberle, who isn’t known to be the most physically imposing presence. I took a look at some analytics, and both 5v5 CF60, CF% and CF%RelTM were all dead last on the entire Dallas Stars roster.

So Kris Russell may not look the best analytically or size-wise, but there are some things he is exceptional at. He blocks shots like a beast, second in the entire NHL season in shots blocked at 210 total. Perhaps the weak possession stats lead to him having to use his body more often to block the shots that happen when he is on the ice, but at least he is willing to courageously use his small body as a wall to block those shots. He also is known to play with a ton of emotion, however much importance that carries.

Right now, it is best to regard this trade as a low-risk move to pad the defense with some depth, and hope Russell’s play improves in a new environment. Worst case scenario, maybe we can flip him at the trade deadline for a similar group of prospects, because that will totally happen for the Edmonton Oilers.

And because optimism is always, I will end with a list of other positive things about Kris Russell:

  • He is from Alberta. In fact, he is from Red Deer, smack dab in between Edmonton and Calgary, which is a little bit poetic, is it not? I will infer from this that Kris Russell’s life is poetic.
  • He was born on May 2. Five and two are nice numbers. I like those numbers.
  • He was part of Canada’s gold medal-winning World Junior team in 2016— this article contains a glorious image of young Kris returning from his tournament. (Ok, it was ten years ago, but can’t I just pretend for a minute that he’s a blue chip prospect?)
  • His dad Doug was a professional bull fighter.
  • Did I mention he blocks a lot of shots?

Let us know your thoughts on this latest move by Chiarelli below.

EDIT: Kris Russell will be wearing **trigger warning** #4 for the Oilers. Savage.