Russ has been unbelievable for us. He’s the toughest 166-pounder that I’ve ever coached. He’s in the offense. Defensively he’s very strong. He’s pleasant to work with -- very good team guy. He’s a very big addition for us. - Bob Hartley
CALGARY, AB -- Kris Russell has taken it upon himself to get offensive.
With Mark Giordano’s broken ankle -- an injury expected to keep the Calgary Flames captain on the injured reserve for six to eight weeks -- the 5-foot-10 defenceman has come up big with the added responsibility of leading the Flames blue line in the offensive end.
The Caroline, AB product has four points in his past four games while seeing his ice time and responsibility rise in Giordano’s absence.
“I’m starting to play good minutes and simplify my game,” Russell said. “There are things I can clean up but I think I’ve been doing pretty well so far. I just have to keep getting better, keep working hard at it and make sure I keep going.”
Paired with Dennis Wideman, Russell has seen plenty of ice.
Against the Phoenix Coyotes -- Calgary’s first game without Giordano -- Russell played 25:02. That number grew as high as 29:13 against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
That added ice comes with increasing confidence from head coach Bob Hartley.
“Russ has been unbelievable for us,” Hartley said. “He’s the toughest 166-pounder that I’ve ever coached. He’s in the offence. Defensively he’s very strong. He’s pleasant to work with -- very good team guy. He’s a very big addition for us.”
Russell, acquired from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a 2014 fifth round pick in July and promptly inked a one-year, $1.5 million pact with the Flames, was added to provide some offensive punch to Calgary’s blue line.
He's done just that.
Coming into the season, Russell compiled 23 goals and 72 assists in 364 career NHL games between the Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets. With five assists and six points in 12 games this season, he’s scoring at an even more impressive clip since joining Calgary.
That production, said Russell, has come with his success a direct pucks towards the goal.
“I’m just trying to get pucks on net, create stuff from the blue line,” said Russell, who starred in junior with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL and grew up a Flames fan. “As soon as you get pucks through as a defenceman, you’re going to get opportunities.
“We have good guys who can tip shots and really create havoc out front. It’s a testament of how well our forwards get to the net because that’s the way our defencemen get points.”
“We call those punches,” Hartley said. “He’s punching pretty good as a featherweight, but still it always finds the net or finds a stick or a leg in front.
“Right now, that’s the easiest way to score goals in the NHL.”
And the biggest reason Russell’s been able to get offensive this season.