The Edmonton Oilers’ Kris Russell is a shot-blocking machine. He’s also a defenseman who people always seem to want to move out, but who always seems to stay. Everyone agrees that he’s not the best defenseman in the NHL by a long shot; that said, somehow for the past four seasons he finds his way into the Oilers’ lineup night after night.
As a result of what must be Russell’s high pain threshold, season after season he just keeps painfully stopping pucks using all parts of his body, limping off the ice, skating back, taking another shot off the ankle or boot, limping off again, and then replaying the process yet again.
He’s always hurt, but he’s always there.
Since he first signed with the Oilers prior to the 2016-17 season, Russell has been an advanced analytics nightmare. As a result, people are always ready to move him out; but, somehow although he has a poor Corsi, he always seems to help his team both produce goals and stop them.
Surely there are better alternatives than Russell, but it seems the Oilers just can’t find one. For his style of play, Russell’s been roundly criticized. Still, he holds his own and, to this point, no one has come along to make him dispensable.
The Oilers Sign Russell to a One-Year Contract Extension
Last week, it happened again, and the Oilers re-signed the 33-year-old Russell to a one-year contract extension. His new contract will take Russell through the 2021-22 season and will pay him $1.25 million starting in 2021-22. Russell still has another season left on a four-year, $16 million contract.
During the 2019-20 season, Russell scored nine assists and registered 101 blocks and 71 hits in 55 games. If you meet Russell off the ice, at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, he’s quite unassuming actually. But on the ice, he’s a fearless shot-blocker who might give up the blue line but who’ll do anything physically possible to contest a shot. He’s not the best puck mover and dumps the puck out of the zone lots, but somehow he remains effective.
What Makes Russell So Valuable to the Oilers?
It might be that Russell was never worth the $4 million per year for four years, but he’s likely to be worth every penny of his new $1.25 million contract. That’s because he’s transitioning from a go-to defenseman to a mentor for a really strong and young Oilers defensive group.
Why does he do it? In an interview on Friday with Bob Stauffer on Friday’s episode of “Oilers Now” on 630 CHED, Russell told the story of breaking into the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets when he was younger.
He said, “I was very fortunate when I came into the league. We had a lot of veteran guys in Columbus… [Head Coach Ken Hitchcock] put me right beside Adam Foote from the start of camp and that’s where my stall ended up being.”
Russell went on, “To learn from a guy like that and listen to a guy who played so hard and was such a great player in the league, from the day-to-day things he could help me with and how easy it was to come to him and talk to him and how available he made himself, that sure showed a lot to me.”
Working to Teach the Oilers’ Youngsters
These days, Russell is trying to mentor the Oilers’ young defense the same way Adam Foote mentored him when he was younger. That defense will likely include young Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones next season. And, likely coming in the 2021-22 season, Russell could be mentoring the likes of young defensemen like Evan Bouchard, William Lagesson, Philip Broberg, and Dmitri Samorukov.
Speaking about Foote, Russell says “I try to be the same way. If there’s anything I can help with, I try to give back as much as I can.”
By the way, is he unhappy about the reduction of pay? Not so you’d notice. Russell noted, “Any time you get offered an NHL contract is an exciting time. Especially for my family, spending another year in Edmonton is great being so close to home. I’m very fortunate.”
Living in Edmonton, Russell is close to home. He’s from the small-town of Caroline in Central Alberta. Furthermore, the Oilers are happy enough to arrange for Edmonton to be the Russell family home for at least another season – hence the contract extension.
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