When the Injuries Heal: Kris Russell | Oilersnetwork.com - Edmonton Oilers News and Rumours

When the Injuries Heal: Kris Russell

What happens to this Edmonton Oilers roster when the injuries heal? Currently the Oilers are without roster regulars Matt Hendricks, Zack Kassian, Brandon Davidson, Mark Fayne and Kris Russell. This doesn't include players like Iiro Pakarinen and Drake Caggiula who have to be give serious consideration for roster spots when they are ready to go.

The Oilers are also having a pretty good season going 9-4-1 in their first fourteen games. There is room for tweaks and fixes, but the team is not in need of a major overhaul and making too many changes may affect the positive momentum the team has built to date.

What should Edmonton do when players like Hendricks, Davidson, Caggiula and Pakarinen are ready to go? Over the next few days, I'm going to look at the domino effects that could take place with these players.

I'll start first with the injury that is most likely the least serious — that being Kris Russell.

Kris Russell


Russell had been one of Edmonton's better defenders before going down to injury. Of course, like any defenseman, he's had games where he wasn't at his best. That's not to be unexpected. He's a second-pairing defenseman on a new team playing some pretty heavy minutes. He'a also the type of player that is more highly scrutinized than other Oilers. Thus, we see the mistakes more quickly in Russell than we might in others.

By the sheer nature under which he was brought in, Russell is likely going to be picked apart more than other defensemen on the Oilers.  He's not exactly an analytics darling and he's on what is likely a temporary short-term one-year contract. Keeping him means losing a pretty good defenseman to the NHL expansion draft, so most will try to find holes in his game. It's not fair, but that's the way it goes.

All that said, he's been better than advertised. He led the team for a long stretch of games in a number of defensive categories. From blocked shots to takeaways, time on ice and points, he was a major factor in Edmonton;s 7-1-0 start to the year.



Where Russell Fits


Does he fit back on the off-side in a second-pairing role? Looking at the surroundings, the Oilers have to be extremely happy with the play of Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson. They are a true number-one pair for the Oilers and while every game isn't perfect, are building chemistry and taking on some of the NHL's toughest defenses and fairing better than average. Russell would also be out of position on the first-pairing, so he's not an option there.

Russell is also a left-handed blue-liner on a team that has many left-handed blue-liners. The result is that Russell was the player chosen to play his off-side with Andrej Sekera. It worked out well and I can see areas where Sekera has struggled since playing without Russell. Sekera would welcome Russell back in a heartbeat.

Eric Gryba and Darnell Nurse have been a pleasant surprise for the Oilers on the third pair and splitting them up right now makes little sense.

Matthew Benning becomes the odd-man out in this situation and that makes sense for an Edmonton team that could use Benning in other ways and make him a bigger part of the long-term plan.

Long-Term


I wrote a piece on thehockeywriters.com a while back asking if Russell's play was enough to warrant consideration for a longer-term contract after this season ends. It was met with mixed reactions and both sides had valid points.

The way the Oilers are playing is changing the equation weekly. For example, the NHL Expansion Draft was a situation where it seemed easy to pick out Edmonton's protected list. Now, that's so much the case. Players like Tyler Pitlick, Anton Lander and others have scratched their way into the conversation, while players like Brandon Davidson, who has been unhealthy most of the season, is becoming someone the Oilers may not have to worry about losing.

Should Russell come back and pick up where he left off in the first 10 games of the season, it's reasonable to suggest he changes the conversation again. At the very least, the Oilers need more time to assess what they truly have in Kris Russell. Is he the defenseman that wow'd us in the first 10 games? Or, is he the defenseman that struggled a bit in his last two and went down to injury?

But, who cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.





Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about Oilersnetwork.com founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.




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