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Blues pleased to add Russell to defense corps

by Louie Korac
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The St. Louis Blues have created a logjam on their blue line. It's a problem they have no problem dealing with.

The Blues completed a trade Friday morning, acquiring defenseman Kris Russell from the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenseman Nikita Nikitin, a trade that gained heavy traction Thursday night but had been in the works for weeks.

"These trades don't happen in a day," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "(Columbus GM) Scott (Howson) and I have talked over the last couple weeks on just both of our teams. Russell's name came up."

Russell, 24, is a 5-foot-10, 174-pound left-handed shot. He's in the second year of a three-year, $3.9 million deal. A third-round pick (No. 67) in 2005, Russell has 18 goals and 79 points over parts of four seasons with the Jackets, including 2 goals and 1 assist in 12 games this season.


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Looking at the bigger picture, Russell played under Blues coach Ken Hitchcock in Columbus.

"The name was available to us prior to Ken coming with us, but certainly we did tap into that knowledge of his experience with him," Armstrong said. "He was very high on acquiring the player."

Added Hitchcock, "Russ is a guy that transports the puck really well. He's got quickness, he's a guy that can join the attack, is a dangerous player 4-on-4, has a very underrated shot and when he shoots the puck on the move, it comes with velocity and accuracy.

"For me, he's got a lot of attributes that allow us to increase our transition."

The Blues (7-7-1) are 1-0-1 since Hitchcock's arrival on Sunday and have received solid play from their blueliners in both contests, including that of recently recalled Ian Cole, who played with the team's American Hockey league affiliate in Peoria.

"Depth is a good thing for our organization," Armstrong said. "As we move forward, injuries can happen at any time. I'd rather have more depth than not enough."

Unless the Blues make another move via trade, Cole is likely the odd man out when they play host to Tampa Bay on Saturday night, because Hitchcock said Russell will was not brought here to sit out.

"My feeling is it's an obligation by an organization," Hitchcock said. "When you trade for a player, get him up and running right away.

"I haven't decided who's coming out. I just know he's going in."

The 25-year-old Nikitin is a 6-2, 217-pound left-handed shot that fell out of favor of sorts with the Blues after struggling in his second season. He had no points in five games and was a minus-5. He was a healthy scratch in eight of the last nine games.

A fifth-round draft pick (No. 136) in 2004, Nikitin has 1 goal and 8 assists in 41 games, all with the Blues, but got lost in the shuffle as other players ramped up their games.

"Niki obviously wasn't playing in our organization right now," Armstrong said. "We really like how Ian Cole has progressed. I thought about giving Niki an opportunity to play, but also more importantly for the St. Louis Blues, bringing someone with experience that adds a different dimension to our left side. I thought that was very important."

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