Last season, Russell proved once again why he is one of the league’s elite defensive defensemen, as he posted a league-leading 213 blocked shots for the Flames in 2016-17. That’s fantastic news for the Oilers -- who picked him up in free agency -- and any fantasy owners in leagues that count that category, but unfortunately for everyone else, the veteran blueliner lacks tangible value in basically all other facets of the fantasy game. The 30-year-old posted just one goal and 13 points on a miserable 1.5 shooting percentage last season, and to make matters worse, he lost his career-long role on the power play. Considering that his penchant for standing in front of fast-moving frozen discs of vulcanized rubber causes him to miss time due to injury (he suited up for 68 contests last season) and he won't enjoy much power-play action, there are more attractive options in most fantasy formats.
There are few – perhaps no – players in the NHL more willing to put their body in front of fast-moving discs of frozen rubber than Russell, who’s piled up well nearly 700 hits in the last three seasons. However, his home for the 2016-17 season remains unresolved after he split last year between the Flames and Stars. He’s reportedly looking for pretty big money as one of the NHL’s better defensive players, but the 29-year-old has limited offensive capability, having exceeded 30 points just once in his career. It’s not inconceivable that he could get back to that level, but it’s going to depend on where he signs.
Russell probably should have been a goaltender, what with the record number of blocked shots (283) he accumulated in 2014-15. His blind willingness to put himself in front of a 100 mile-per-hour slap shot is both admirable and insane. But he struggled with possession, and he and defense partner Dennis Wideman had one heck of a time bringing the puck out of their own zone. It’s that paltry possession impact that could result in Russell getting bumped down to the third pairing. His ice time is already sure to go down with the arrival of Dougie Hamilton, and he’ll only be an occasional contributor on the power play. So despite an impressive 14 points in 20 games after Mark Giordano went down, Russell is about to see a drop in production. Where’s his fantasy value? He’s primarily a specialty-league guy -- those blocked shot numbers are amazing. The rest of his game leaves a lot to be desired.
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.