That goal was sweet. Kris Russell, outta nowhere! (in fact, that would be a fitting title of a novella written about his 2013-14 season). Ending that 2810481 year jinx in Chicago was nice and that got a win for Reto Berra, which didn’t happen often.
It is fair to say that Kris Russell has far-exceeded the expectations of someone acquired for a fifth round pick. After a strong start to last season, Russell was rewarded with a two-year extension that brings him under contract until 2016-17 at a very reasonable $2.6 million per season.
Russell has a surprisingly good history of driving possession but played more last year than ever before in his career and his possession numbers suffered. Perhaps the Flames simply asked too much of Russell last season and weren’t able to shelter him enough. Let’s see what we should expect from Russell this season
Last season, Russell posted a career high in points last season and surprised a lot of people with his ability to contribute offensively. However, Russell’s play noticeably declined near the end of the season but it likely had a lot to do with the fact that he was being relied upon more heavily, a role he is likely not suited for.
Prior to coming to Calgary, Russell had a pretty rough 2012-13 with the Blues numbers-wise, who likely weren’t able to give him prime zone starts and PP time as they had many capable defencemen above him on the depth chart.
from stats.hockeyanalysis.com (Pour one out for Extra Skater)
Looking at Russell’s 5v5 CF%, he didn’t really drive possession all that well last season but, once again, it wasn’t like the Flames did very well in that regard last season across the board (outside of Gio and Brodie) hence the fact that Sam Bennett is now a Flame.
What I find significant about those numbers is the 1233:42 that Russell played at even-strength last season, a career high by a significant margin. Russell soaked up a lot of minutes and likely played in some situations that the Flames weren’t exactly comfortable with, therefore his possession numbers were bound to suffer.
For what it’s worth, Russell posted a CF% of 51.1 2012-13 in St.Louis, albeit with a much better team and playing only 470 minutes at evens. In fact, Russell’s CF% was >50 in each of his previous seasons before coming to Calgary, including the seasons he played in Columbus. I am not quite sure what to make of this information, other than the fact that Russell may be capable of driving play a lot better than he did last season if used in the right situations.
Russell was slightly sheltered last season and I would expect that this season will be more of the same assignment wise. Russell has proven himself to be effective in the offensive zone while being fairly inconsistent defensively.
In an ideal world, I think the Flames would use Russell as a sheltered-minutes bottom pairing guy, perhaps paired with a more conventionally-styled d-man. However, the Flames don’t exactly have this luxury and compared with some of the other options that the Flames have on defence (see: Engelland, Deryk), Russell will likely see more minutes that he probably should this season.
Last season, Russell was quite effective on the power-play positing a career high in goals and points. Four out of Russell’s seven goals came with the man advantage and, as you can see from the table above, Russell has demonstrated an ability to generate a lot of shots on the PP in years past.
This facet of Russell’s game is an important one for the Flames next season as the Flames could have four reasonably solid defenders on their 2 PP units with Gio, Brodie, Russell, and Wideman.
To my mind, Russell is a perfect case study in reasonable expectations. If the Flames can find a way to use Russell in sheltered minutes, pair him with a capable defensive defenseman (they may need to find one first), and give him plenty of time on the power-play then I think the Flames will be very pleased with the offensive upside of Russell.
However, the lack of depth on the back-end for the Flames next season will likely expose Russell to minutes and situations that he isn’t built for and I would expect him to suffer possession-wise again. That all being said, I think all Flames fans are already impressed in what Russell has given the Flames already and the fact that he is an everyday NHL defenceman is pretty good for the price that was paid to acquire him.