EDMONTON -- Defenseman Kris Russell was happy to sign with the Edmonton Oilers even if it happened a little later than he hoped.
The Oilers bolstered their defense by signing the unrestricted free agent Friday to a one-year, $3.1 million contract, a few hours after trading forward Nail Yakupov, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, to the St. Louis Blues.
"I wanted to be on an organization right from the get-go at the start of camp, I didn't want to be a guy coming in late," Russell said. "But the way things worked out, I'm extremely fortunate that the Oilers have given me an opportunity to play here."
Russell is expected to play for the Oilers on Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place in their final preseason game.
It will be Edmonton's first game without Yakupov, traded for prospect Zach Pochiro and a conditional third-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, which becomes a second-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft if he scores at least 15 goals for the Blues this season.
"Basically, at the end of the day, we decided Nail needed a fresh start," Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said Saturday. "We talked to Nail yesterday and that's pretty much the message we said to him yesterday, that maybe it's time for a fresh start here."
The Blues are responsible for all of Yakupov's $2.5 million salary in the final year of his contract, but Chiarelli said it was not a factor in signing Russell.
"Cap-wise, no," Chiarelli said. "It was a nice little convenient sidebar, but it was something that presented himself, at more or less, the same time."
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Russell, 29, from Caroline, Alberta, played with the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars last season. He was second in the NHL with 210 blocked shots to Francois Beauchemin of the Colorado Avalanche (256) and had four goals and 10 points in 62 games.
Russell was traded to the Stars on Feb. 29 prior to the NHL Trade Deadline and had four assists in 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
"When I got the call [from Edmonton] it's something I wanted to be a part of and I'm extremely happy to get this opportunity," Russell said after his first practice with the Oilers. "I'm just going to go out and work hard and earn as many minutes as I can. Just like any player in here, they want to play as much as they can. Nothing is given in this league, it's all about earning and that's what I look forward to do."
Russell is expected to help fill a void on defense, which was first addressed with the acquisition of defensemen Adam Larsson from the New Jersey Devils on June 29 in a trade for left wing Taylor Hall, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft.
"The skating and the puck retrieval was a need of our defensive corps," Chiarelli said. "I think we've made it significantly better this year, and adding Kris on top of that rounds it out and makes it more diverse."
Russell, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound left shot, is expected to play on the right side of the Oilers' second defense pair with Andrej Sekera.
"I felt the way they talked to me and how this team is developing and the way they've played, I think it's going to be fun, you get to play in a new building you get the crowd going and you have some good young, exciting players," Russell said. "I've been on situations before where I've been on teams that are on the uprising and I felt like I could help and I'm glad with this opportunity."
Russell was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third round (No 67) of the 2005 NHL Draft. He played five seasons for Columbus before playing with the Blues, Flames and Stars. His best offensive season was in 2014-15 with the Flames, when he had four goals and 34 points in 79 games. Russell had two goals and seven points in 11 playoff games for the Flames that season.
"He's a competitive guy," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. "At his size, back in the day when he entered the League, if you didn't have a real strong drive and ability to play in some heavy, tough games, you weren't making it. He, obviously, made it and was able to be successful from that point on. We see him being a puck-moving type D-man that can create some speed from the back end, delivering pucks on breakouts. He's a good penalty killer, he blocks a ton of shots and fronts a lot. A lot of offense is created off of that, knocking pucks down and going the other way."
Prior to signing with Edmonton, Russell had been skating with Red Deer of the Western Hockey League to keep in shape. He is expected to be in the lineup when Edmonton opens the regular season against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Place on Oct. 12.
"Obviously, I would have liked to have been here from Day One," Russell said. "It's no surprise that I feel I might be a little bit behind. Hopefully, I get in tonight and try to get up to game speed, get some pucks, take some hits and throw some hits and get ready for opening night."