The July sign-and-trade that brought Kris Russell into the Calgary Flames’ fold was a mere footnote on a busy summer transaction wire. But the 26-year-old defenceman’s acquisition from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft has proven to be one of the best under-the-radar moves made by jettisoned GM Jay Feaster, as Russell took on a top-four role on the Flames blueline, before going down with a sprained knee last month in Pittsburgh. In his return to the lineup Monday against the San Jose Sharks, Russell barely missed a beat after a 13-game absence, logging 23:20 in icetime and picking up a helper on Kevin Westgarth’s first-period goal at the SAP Center. “Kris looked great, and not only that he looked great, but I think that he gave gas to many other defencemen, because now we have another D-man that can jump into the play so that it’s not always one or two defencemen that need to carry the offensive load,” Flames head coach Bob Hartley said Tuesday. As Mark Giordano did earlier in the season when the Flames captain returned from a broken ankle and immediately resumed his workhorse role, Russell was thrown right back into the fire. “It was a little sore, but it felt good getting used to playing again and playing those kind of minutes,” Russell said Tuesday. “The game speed (was the biggest adjustment). Obviously, you can’t emulate that in practice, (nor) taking hits and trying to make those quick plays — I’d like a few of those back. “But I felt as the game went on, I started to get better, and hopefully, I can continue on with that.” Russell has earned his ice this season and sits fourth on the team in terms of blueline minutes, averaging 23:38 per game, which has sparked recent contract extension talk, as the native of Carolina, Alta., is currently inked to an expiring bargain-bin US$1.5-million deal.
Flames happy to see return of workhorse blueliner
Calgary Sun | Jan 22