Friday, September 10, 2010

Time to step up: Kris Russell

  • Defenseman
  • 23 years old, 4th year in National Hockey League
  • $1,300,000 cap hit 
  • 2.2% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at 2012-2013
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 70 games played, 7 goals, 15 assists, 22 points, +3, 32 penalty minutes, 18:35 avg. time on ice
The stars are aligned for Kris Russell this season.
Largely as a reflection on the lousy past season, most every player profiled up to this point has a challenge to step up according to one of two themes: 1) Correct last season's errors or 2) Earn a new/better contract.    Kris Russell is one of the very few members of the Columbus Blue Jackets where this is not the case.

Russell is an offensive defenseman, perhaps the only true "puck-moving defenseman" on the CBJ roster.  Having spent the last three seasons in a Ken Hitchcock "weighty" system that rewarded the stay-at-home defender, he is now poised to be the poster child of an attacking system in Columbus that supposedly will press the puck up the ice like so many other young, successful teams are doing these days.

This is a young man with some pedigree and talent.  "Lil' Shake" is a two-time WHL defenseman of the year (2006 & 2007) and past WHL player of the year (2007).  He is a past CHL defenseman of the year (2007).  And now he's entering his fourth NHL season.  He's been to the playoffs (albeit briefly).  There's little he hasn't seen by now.  It's time to put the skill and the experience together and prove that Scott Howson's unwillingness to trade the onetime prospect (when Howson didn't really have much else on the roster that other teams wanted) was the right move.

Russell is hampered somewhat by his limited size (5'10", 185 lbs.), and I'm betting his time in the Hitchcock defensive system improved his NHL-level defensive skills.   He'll never be a shutdown defender, and you probably don't want to see him finishing too many checks, but he was +3 last season on a defense that was really quite poor - so he's no slouch, either.

But give him the puck in his own end and watch him fly...

If Scott Arniel's purported system is everything that Blue Jackets fans hope, Kris Russell will have the stage to show this type of offensive skill, night in and night out.  I am genuinely excited to see it happen.

The sky's the limit for our budding star defenseman.  Will he step up to the opportunity that's staring him in the face?

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