The Edmonton Oilers have signed unrestricted free agent defenseman Kris Russell to a one-year, $3.1 million contract.
The deal was announced shortly after Edmonton traded former first-overall pick Nail Yakupov to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for prospect Zach Pochiro and a conditional draft pick.
Russell, 29, played for the Calgary Flames last season before being traded to Dallas at the trade deadline. He was highly sought-after throughout the offseason by many teams in need of a reliable defensive defenseman.
Russell is on the smaller side at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds but typically finishes at the top of the league in blocked shots and can contribute offensively. He finished second in the NHL last season with 210 blocks, trailing only Colorado’s Francois Beauchemin (256); however, Russell played 20 fewer games than Beauchemin. Russell led the league by 74 blocks in the 2014-2015 season.
Russell’s point production took a hit last season as he managed only 19 points in 62 games with the Flames and Stars compared to 34 points in 79 games in 2014-2015 and 29 points in 68 games in 2013-2014.
Russell is the second top-four defenseman general manager Peter Chiarelli has brought in to address the Oilers’ holes on defense; the team acquired Adam Larsson from New Jersey in exchange for Taylor Hall earlier this offseason. It’s most likely that Larsson and Oscar Klefbom will make up the top pair, leaving Russell to slot in on the right side next to Andrej Sekera to round out the team’s top four.
“The skating and the puck retrieval was a need of our defensive corps,” Chiarelli said. “I think we’ve made it significantly better this year, and adding Kris on top of that rounds it out and makes it more diverse.”
The team envisions Russell continuing his strong play in the defensive end while also using that defensive play to drive transition hockey.
“We see him being a puck-moving type D-man that can create some speed from the back end, delivering pucks on breakouts,” Oilers head coach Todd McLellan said. “He’s a good penalty killer, he blocks a ton of shots and fronts a lot. A lot of offense is created off of that, knocking pucks down and going the other way.”
Though Russell would have preferred to have signed with Edmonton on day one of free agency, he is grateful for the opportunity to come to a young team on the rise.
“I wanted to be on an organization right from the get-go at the start of camp, I didn’t want to be a guy coming in late,” Russell said. “But the way things worked out, I’m extremely fortunate that the Oilers have given me an opportunity to play here.”
He is eager to make up for lost time and get right to work.
“Nothing is given in this league,” Russell said. “It’s all about earning, and that’s what I look forward to do.”
Edmonton opens the season Wednesday night at home against the Calgary Flames, the Oilers’ biggest rival and Russell’s former team.
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