CALGARY, AB -- When the Calgary Flames acquired Kris Russell from the St. Louis Blues on Jul. 5, 2013, it was a bit unclear as to what kind of role he would play for the club.
During his junior career with the Medicine Hat Tigers, Russell put up excellent offensive numbers and won the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy twice, as the WHL's top defenceman. He also represented Canada in two World Junior Championships (2006, 2007) and, in 2007, tied Jonathan Toews for the team lead with four goals.
At 5-foot-10 and 173-pounds, many wondered if his size would deter him from making an impact at the NHL level but Russell continued to put up decent numbers after securing a spot on the Blue Jackets roster in 2007-08.
On Nov. 11, 2011, St. Louis and Columbus swapped defencemen, with the Blue Jackets shipping Russell to Missouri in exchange for Nikita Nikitin. His offensive production dipped a bit in St. Louis and his position on the depth chart wavered when the Blues added Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold to their defence corps.
When he was traded to the Flames, he viewed the opportunity as a fresh start and a chance to elevate his game on all fronts.
He did just that.
In 66 games, Russell scored seven goals and set a new career-high with 29 points to his name. He solidified himself as a top-four defenceman in Calgary and thrived when he was handed more minutes and responsibility.
"I think my confidence is a big thing," he said. "I think getting put in different situations and growing. It’s tough when guys go down but with Gio going down there early, and Wides, it was an opportunity for other guys to get more ice time and I think that benefited a few of us.
"You never want to see guys go down but at the same time, it’s … something that can help a player and I thought there was a few guys who benefited from that."
After getting a taste of what Russell could provide the team, the Flames reached out to see if the defenceman would be interested in re-signing during the season.
Russell appreciated the potential and progression he saw in the organization and ended up inking a two-year deal with an average annual value of $2.6 million on Feb. 8.
“I think we have the core group that realizes that we’re close but we’re not that close. There’s steps that we really have to take and challenge ourselves to be better. But I think this is a group that’s willing to do that. That’s why I re-signed. I think the future’s bright in Calgary."
The blueliner will be looked upon as one of the Flames leaders next season, tasked with helping take the team to the next level.
"As a team, I think we have some stepping stones now," Russell stated. "We’re a team that’s built on hard work and I thought we showed that pretty much night-in and night-out.
"At the same time, I think as a group we’ve got to realize that we’ve got things to work on. We have to get to that next level and we need a big off-season by everyone. We’ve got a lot of time to get training and get to that next level mentally and physically as well. That’s going to be our challenge right now."
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