28-Year-Old Defenseman – Calgary Flames
Kris Russell Contract Information:
Signed a two-year, $5.2 million contract with the Flames in February 2014.
Russell (upper body) assisted on a pair of goals in Tuesday's 5-3 loss to the Ducks.
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RotoWire's Preseason Outlooks
Russell was a revelation for Calgary in 2013-14, registering 29 points in 68 games after only scoring 19 his previous three NHL seasons combind. The 27-year-old defender has found his niche in Calgary and should be good for another solid fantasy output of 30-40 points this season playing alongside Dennis Wideman.
Russell's relationship with the Blues soured last season as he struggled to just nine points in 33 games, so he was traded to the Flames in the offseason. Russell is a low-risk, high-reward deal for Calgary. At worst, he cost the Flames a fifth-round pick. At best, he recaptures his 20-point campaigns from 2009-10 and 2010-11.
The first move newly hired head coach Ken Hitchcock made was to trade for Russell, with whom he was familiar from his days with the Blue Jackets. Russell didn't disappoint, showing off his skating and ability to rush the puck while not being a liability on the defensive end. He'll be part of the six defensemen Hitchcock uses most nights.
Russell continues to struggle in the NHL, as he hasn't been able to establish himself as either the offensive threat he was in junior hockey, or as a reliable provider of outlet passes from the defensive end. With a cohort of blue line prospects behind him in the Blue Jackets' system, Russell's time in Columbus might be growing very short if he can't take his game to the next level.
In 2009-10, Russell put up 22 points (7G, 15A), barely setting a career high in the category. At 5'10, 160-pounds, Russell does not have the ideal frame for a defenseman, making it extra hard for him to clear through traffic on the ice and put up points. He's still got some upside if he can find some space, but there are safer options for your fantasy blue line.
Russell's size may always be an issue, but he heads into his third NHL season with a real chance to shine. Coach Ken Hitchcock remains pleased with his progress in his own end of the rink, and as Russell proves himself defensively he'll get more opportunities to unleash his tremendous offensive potential. Last year he doubled his point total from his rookie season, and it's not unreasonable to think the kid who scored better than a point a game in his final year of junior hockey could double his NHL output again and crack the 40-point mark.
Russell appeared in 67 games as a rookie but wasn’t asked to take on any kind of offensive role, as instead the Blue Jackets wanted him to concentrate on minimizing his mistakes and handling his defensive assignments. Expect that to change this season as the club still lacks any kind of scoring threat on the blue line, and Russell certainly has the talent to establish himself as the club’s top point man on the power play.
The Blue Jackets absolutely stole Russell with the 67th overall pick in 2005. If Russell was 6-2 and not 5-10, people would be talking about him being the next Dion Phaneuf (minus the hitting). Yet since he is undersized, he is going to have to prove himself once he turns pro. Russell may very well be the most talented defenseman in all of Canadian major junior hockey. This year Russell had 69 points in 59 games for Medicine Hat of the WHL. It remains to be seen how much of a factor Russell's lack of size will be in the long run, but he provides so much offense from the blue line that he is a prospect who must be watched very closely.
Last season's WHL Defenseman of the Year scored 47 points in 55 games with Medicine Hat. Russell doesn't have a strong physical presence but could have a future on the power play.