Grading the 2011-12 Blues
The fourth installment of the “Grading the 2011-12 Series” features defenseman Kris Russell. Russell began the 2011-12 season skating with the Columbus Blue Jackets only to wind up with the Blues after the team sent Nikita Nikitin packing. Did Russell make a positive impact with the Blues despite limited time with the team?
Previous Grading the Blues Articles
Prior to 2011-12
Kris Russell emerged on the NHL scene in 2007-08 when he played in 67 games for Columbus. He appeared in 276 games for the Blue Jackets between 2007-08 and 2010-11, scoring 16 goals and 60 assists. Following the 2009-10 season Columbus signed Russell to a three-year, $3.9 million contract.
Russell started the 2011-12 season with Columbus before being involved in a trade that sent him to St. Louis in exchange for fellow defenseman Nikita Nikitin. Russell played in just 12 games for the Blue Jackets prior to the trade, scoring two goals and one assist. It’s tough to analyze his play there further as all of us Blues fans were mostly focused on the uninspired effort the Blues had been putting forth under Davis Payne.
Shortly after Ken Hitchcock was named the new coach of the Blues the team pulled the trigger on a trade to land Russell. Hitchcock was familiar with Russell thanks to his extensive time with Columbus and was so impressed with the defender that he played a role in bringing him to St. Louis.
Russell went on to play in 43 games for the St. Louis Blues, notching four goals and five assists. Russell’s speed became an additional weapon for the Blues on what was already a pretty potent blue line.
However, Russell’s season wasn’t without its faults. He suffered a groin injury in December as well as a concussion in February which forced him to miss time. He also scored just one goal over his last 34 games of the year. It’s possible that he never fully recovered either from his groin injury or concussion but that’s impossible to say with any degree of certainty.
Final numbers: 55 games – 6 goals, 6 assists (12 points) with a +12.
Regular season grade: B
Summarized: Russell was impressive upon arriving in St. Louis but a couple of injuries cut his season short. Russell showed plenty of offensive talent as well as solid defensive play, using his speed to help him make up for his lack of size and strength. Russell rarely made bad passes and rarely lost the puck in his own zone. He was consistently solid which is really all that fans could ask for. At age 25, Russell showed experience and poise that was above his years.
Russell’s play in the playoffs wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great but it certainly wasn’t as poor as some of his teammates. As a matter a fact, Russell was one of few St. Louis Blues skaters that actually found some success against the Los Angeles Kings, recording two assists.
Final numbers: 9 games – 0 goals, 3 assists (3 points) with a +3 rating.
Playoff grade: B
Summarized: Russell’s play in the playoffs closely mimicked his play during the regular season. He wasn’t a shining star but at the same time he wasn’t a glaring weakness. His play was constant and predictable. Where his teammates were making mistakes, Russell played a sharp and solid game. He sacrificed his body, blocking 19 shots over the course of the team’s playoff run. All in all, there was no reason to be disappointed with Russell’s playoff effort.
The Blues have arguably one of the best young defensive units in the NHL. However, there will be some changes made over the summer as the team contemplates what to do with Barrett Jackman and Carlo Colaiacovo. Russell is signed through 2012-13 but will be up for a new contract after the year expires. His role shouldn’t change much in 2011-12 but his partner at defense might depending what the Blues decide to do with free agency. If he is able to stay healthy in 2012-13 and play like he did when healthy in 2011-12, don’t be surprised to see a new contract offered Russell’s way during the 2012-13 campaign.