Off-Season Targets: Kris Russell

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The Edmonton Oilers defense needs more well rounded players, guys who are both responsible in their own end and who can move the puck up to the attacking forwards. During the decade of darkness in Edmonton, the Oilers have employed only a handful of these players. Sheldon Souray, Jeff Petry, Tom Gilbert, Lubomir Visnovsky and before his injury, Ryan Whitney. That’s the short list of guys who could both defend and move the puck well.

Andrej Sekera appears to have joined this list while Oscar Klefbom is awfully close as well. Other than that, it’s a barren territory in Edmonton right now. One pending UFA from Dallas may just fit the bill, however. Kris Russell will be looking for a payday this summer and he may be just what the Oilers are looking for.

Why Is He Out There?:

The Stars will be in a bit of a salary crunch this coming off-season. The team needs to re-sign players like Patrick Eaves, Val Nichushkin, Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers and Jamie Oleksiak. On top of that, the Stars need to make room for top defensive prospects Julius Honka, Stephen Johns and Esa Lindell.

Jamie Benn, the team’s best player, will be a UFA in 2017 and will require quite a raise on his current salary. That means the Stars will need to shed some salary in a few different places. We touched on pending UFA’s Demers and Goligoski already. They are options to walk, but so isn’t Russell, who may be the guy Dallas decides they cannot re-sign.

What Does He Do Well?:

Kris Russell may be the best shot-blocking defender in the NHL today. He’s willing to give up the body and break up an opposition chance at all costs. Watching him in Calgary prior to his deadline deal to Dallas, Russell was always in shooting lanes and always causing fits for the opponent.

In addition to that, Russell is actually a strong puck-moving defender. He’s quite mobile and is able to both carry the puck up ice and move it off to attacking forwards. He’s got a crisp first pass and he’s smart enough offensively to be a factor while in the offensive zone. He’s able to handle those situations and can play on the powerplay.

Speed isn’t an issue with Russell either, he’s actually quite a quick defender and can join in on the rush, making himself a threat offensively. This past season, he posted 4-15-19 in 62 games, solid production.

The biggest fault with Russell? He’s a smallish defender (5’10” and 173 pounds) and he is inconsistent defensively.

Jan 27, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames defenseman Kris Russell (4) controls the puck against the Nashville Predators during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Nashville Predators won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Where Will He Play / Where Should He Play?:

If Edmonton signed Kris Russell this off-season, he would likely slide into a third pairing role on the left-hand side. Russell is a LHD and that may be a turn off for the Oilers. I don’t think he is a better defender than Klefbom or Sekera either. That said, Sekera could shift over to the right side and Russell could slide into the second pairing. It gives Edmonton options.

Ideally, Russell is probably a second pairing option at the NHL level. His average TOI per game, 23:04 this season, suggests that he is capable of a top-four role and that it wouldn’t be over his head.

What Will He Cost:

Kris Russell, at age 29, is probably looking for a long term deal from a team. I’d tap out at four years and $4,000,000 per, but I think a team may give him more than that. Considering how poor this free agent class is on the blue-line, I could see him getting something close to six years by $5,000,000 per. That’s too much if you ask me.

Closing Argument:

Kris Russell gets a lot of flack because of a rough year in Calgary this past season. That said, he’s played very well in Dallas and he does a lot of things well that most Oiler defenders do not. He can move the puck, play on the powerplay and is a tough and gritty player.

He’s not ideal, he’ll cost more than he’s worth and he is a left shot, but if the Oilers move Sekera to the right side, Russell makes sense as a left-shot option for the second pairing.

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