By Alexander Monaghan
Kris Russell is generously listed at 5’10” but that did not deter the Columbus Blue Jackets from selecting him 67th overall back in 2005. Nicknamed the rover, Russell dominated at both ends of the ice while playing a rugged game in the WHL. In his draft year he scored 26 goals and 61 points which ranked third in the League — just a few points shy of League leader Mike Green.
Over the next two seasons, Russell only further impressed. He represented Team Canada in the WJHC both years, helping them attain Gold twice. His final season with the Medicine Hat Tigers put him over a point-per-game pace as he finished with an impressive 32 goals and 69 points. Just to put that type of season in perspective, top prospects like Jonathon Blum, Dougie Hamilton, Erik Gubranson and Brandon Gormley never put up those type of statistics, let alone in Major Junior’s most defensive league.
While there were questions over his size, the scouts simply raved about young rover, explaining that he should and will make the NHL, almost immediately. From Hockey’s Future:
“If there’s a little guy that’s ever going to play, he’s the one. The nights he’s playing he can control a game, it goes at whatever speed he wants to play it. I see him blocking shots and coming back and doing a great job of taking on guys in front of the net that are twice his size and he does it along the boards, in the corners and he’ll fight too. If he was 25 pounds heavier you’d be fighting to get him and still I think he’s going to go pretty high”
So Kris Russell was a top prospect. You get it.
He broke into the NHL directly following his standout performance and had some growing pains under then-coach Ken Hitchcock. Russell would finish the season with a disappointing two goals and 10 points over 67 games. His next season was not much better, registering two goals and 21 points over 66 games. He actually would split the season with the Blue Jackets and the Syracuse Crunch — where he proved himself too good for the AHL with thee goals and eight points.
When the team did bring him back up, he was tasked with fixing a broken power play. Needless to say he certainly helped them out tremendously with a goal and 10 points on the man advantage. Hitchcock liked the kid, gave an undersized d-man like him a chance to break into the NHL and knew exactly how to use him. The following season he would score a career-high seven goals and 22 points finishing with a plus-3 rating — the only time he would finish with a positive in his entire career. Almost none of that success, however, could be attributed to current coach Scott Arniel.
On February 3rd, 2010, Hitchcock was relieved of his duties in favor of Arniel. It took him four games to register a point as he finished the season with a goal and six points over his final 21 games. In the Hitchcock regime he was utilized correctly — told to play a gritty game at even strength and slow down the tempo on the power play. Under Arniel he was simply an undersized offensive defenseman who often failed to meet expectations while playing sparingly on the power play and even less during even strength. Thus far he was the fifth in PPTOI/G, behind David Savard, James Wisniewski, Fedor Tyutin and Grant Clitsome. Last season, Nick Holden, Anton Stralman, Clitsome and Tyutin also outranked him in that category.
In St. Louis, Hitchcock and Russell will be reunited. While the team already uses Carlo Colaiacovo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo on the point, they have been rotating forwards Alex Steen, T.J. Oshie and Jason Arnott on the point. In other words, Russell could be used effectively once again should he get back on the point.
Don’t expect the world from this trade but certainly a slight upgrade from his current scenario. GM Scott Howson brought in Russell’s twin brother, Ryan Russell, this past offseason hoping to get the rover going again. In turn it got him off to a modest but underwhelming two goals and three points on the League’s worst team but certainly did not drastically improve his game. His time in Columbus certainly was coming to an end.
While Russell will never score 30 goals and 60+ points in the NHL, a season of 8/22/30 could be in his future if used correctly by the man mostly responsible for his development. Let’s just not hope he’s their best defenseman. So yes, Russell could regain fantasy hockey relevance in the deepest of Leagues.