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FUTURE WATCH: No opportunity wasted

World-traveler and Oilers forward prospect Patrick Russell knows what it means to seize the moment

by Meg Tilley @MegsTilley /

Video: MINORS MINUTE | Bear Rising

The biggest risk is not taking any risk.

It's a saying that Oilers forward prospect Patrick Russell may hold fast to, having known to embark on a few risks - or better yet, opportunities - already in his young hockey career.

The Birkerod, Denmark native grew up in a hockey home, watching his dad, Allan, play on Danish national teams, while Russell's younger sister, Emma, also followed suit, eventually making her way onto the Denmark national women's team.

"I went to a couple of his games, that's just how I got into it," said Russell, who at the age of three was brought onto the ice with his dad at one of his practices.

Though his mom, Christine, never picked up a stick, Russell said she has been the backbone to his budding hockey career.

"My mom has always been a great support for me," he said. "If I need it, she's always there. Even though she didn't play, she's been there for me and always supports me."

She was, and has been, a cornerstone for Russell. Especially during the early stages, when at just 15 years of age, Russell left his familiar living and hockey surroundings to embark on a vocation with Linkoping HC in Sweden.

"I went to Sweden, by myself, to attend high school there and play hockey," said Russell.

"When you go there, they give you an apartment. It's not like over here [in North America] when you're playing juniors [and] you have a billet family. They pretty much just give you an apartment and then you have to take care of yourself. So that was the biggest adjustment."

On top of playing four years of junior for Linkoping in the Swedish Hockey League, Russell played for the Danish national teams at the Under-16, Under-18 and Under-20 levels, captaining the U20 team in his last season, before making his way over to North America to play for the United States Hockey League's Waterloo Black Hawks, where he suddenly found himself in more "lavish" living conditions.

"Living with a billet family, it was kind of nice for a year," he said, hinting that it was a welcomed change of pace to no longer having to live on his own while playing.

He recorded 49 points (29G, 20A) for Waterloo in 2013-14, as well as five goals and three assists for eight points in 12 post-season games, helping Black Hawks win the Anderson Cup and reach the Clark Cup championship series.

Though his life has taken a few international turns, Russell admitted that his hockey game feels most at home in North America, which may be rather unorthodox, considering some European players need an adjustment period when they make their way across the pond, due to the differing ice surface sizes.

"I think the style of play suits me better over here," he said. "It's more physical [when it comes to] protecting the puck, and I like that. I think it was good for me, it was the right move for me and I don't regret it at all."

From 2014 to 2016, the 23-year-old attended St. Cloud State University where he put up some impressive numbers over the course of his freshman and sophomore seasons, recording 30 goals and 36 assists for 66 points in 81 games with the St. Cloud State Huskies.

He made the 2015 NCHC All-Academic Team in his freshman year and in his sophomore year, helped the Huskies capture the National Collegiate Hockey Conference title, tallying 20 goals and 21 assists in 41 games that season, finishing third in club scoring.

In May, Russell was tasked with making a challenging decision, choosing to forgo his college hockey status and sign a two-year, entry-level contract with the Oilers.

"It was really hard," admitted Russell. "It's a great community, St. Cloud. You can always develop as a player there. The group of guys [are] amazing and you can get an education as well, so it was really tough for me for sure."

But once again, it was an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

Following the prospect signings of goaltender Nick Ellis and highly-coveted forward Drake Caggiula, Russell became Edmonton's third NCAA free-agent signing in the off-season.

"I talked to [Peter] Chiarelli and I kind of felt like it was the right move for me," said Russell, who was enrolled in a four-year program at St. Cloud. 

"I hadn't played pro hockey yet…and I felt that it was the right move for me, and [I was ready to] see how I fit into pro hockey and I thought it was really good for my development to try it." 

A sizable forward at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, Russell is known for his heavy shot and ability to find space in the offensive zone.

While he admits he has been working on his skating, he moves his feet well without the puck, which leads to his ability to find open areas and shooting lanes.

"[My skating] has improved a lot…I'm working on that every day," he said.

Donning the Oilers jersey for Rookie Camp, Russell recorded three points in four games. He contributed two points (1G, 1A) in three games at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, BC, while drawing a point in the annual University of Alberta Golden Bears game.

"It was a great experience, it was a lot of fun to meet some of the guys and get to know the systems a little bit," said Russell. "It was a lot of fun to try and measure yourself to a lot of the top prospects, it was good and I for sure learned a lot."

From there, the Danish forward made the transition to Oilers Main Camp before taking up residence with Edmonton's American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors.

"I wanted to soak up everything," said Russell on his time spent at main camp in Edmonton. "The new facility - it's such a professional organization - what to eat, what to do off the ice, what to do on the ice, what to do before and after a practice…pretty much everything. You've got to be open and just try and soak everything in."

Now, five games into the AHL campaign, the Condors are 2-3-0, with Russell recording three assists over the course of the young season.

"It has been up and down," he said on the Condors start. "We just got off a big [5-4 overtime] win the other night. I think we have a lot of areas we need to improve but I think we have the right group of guys and I believe in this team and that we can do pretty big things together."

A small opportunity is often the beginning of great journey. Having capitalized on the chances that have presented themselves over time, Russell - whose hockey globetrotting led to the inking of a professional contract - knows his newest adventure has only just begun.


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