In the Oilers continued quest to upgrade their defensive unit, the club signed Kris Russell to a one-year contract on Friday evening.
The free agent blueliner had been waiting for the right opportunity to come to fruition, and that wait took him right up to Edmonton's final game of the pre-season. It's a situation that isn't ideal, but Russell has been skating every day - often with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL - and staying in shape.
"Stressful," Russell said of the long wait. "I wanted to be with an organization from the get-go, right from the start of camp. I didn't want to be the guy coming in late but I think, with the way things worked out, I'm extremely fortunate that the Oilers gave me an opportunity to play here."
Russell, 29, has plenty of NHL experience. The veteran of nine seasons has played 573 regular season games for Columbus, St. Louis, Calgary and Dallas. He has 177 points (38-139-177) in those contests. He also has 36 playoff games under his belt.
Video: PRE-GAME RAW | Kris Russell
At 5-foot-10, Russell has made a career out of sacrificing in blocking shots, and moving the puck well.
"Competitive guy," Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan said of his new blueliner. "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 - and he obviously made it.
"He's been able to be successful from that point on. We see him being a puck-moving d-man and it creates some speed from our back end, delivering the puck on breakouts. He's a good penalty killer, he blocks a ton of shots in front a lot. A lot of offence is created off that, knocking pucks down and get going the other way."
McLellan had Russell paired with Andrej Sekera at Saturday's morning skate. The two left-handed d-men have enough versatility to play either side. Russell will start on the right.
"I do like the righty-lefty, but I also know he can play both and (Sekera) can play both," said Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli. "I think adding Adam Larsson to that top pair really helped that issue. I'm satisfied with him playing either side and with Sekera playing either side."
Chiarelli has maintained contact with Russell's representation on and off since July. Despite coming to fruition this late in the pre-season, Chiarelli says Russell upgrades his already improved unit.
"Just watching him skate (Saturday) morning, the skating and the puck retrieval was a need of our defensive core," Chiarelli said. "I think we've made it significantly better this year and adding Kris on top of that, I think rounds it out and I think makes it more diverse."
Russell is a native of Caroline, AB and played three seasons for the Calgary Flames. While coming back home to Alberta did come across as enticing, when looking for his next career stop, it was more about the opportunity.
"I felt like, the way they talked to me and the way this team is developing and the way they've played, I think it's fun," said Russell. "You get in a new building, the crowd's going, and you've got some good, young exciting players and I've been in situations before where I've been on a team when they're kind of on the uprising and I felt like I could help and I'm glad with this opportunity."
It's been a stressful off-season for Russell as he dealt with the uncertainty of his next landing spot. But the Oilers are happy to add the veteran to the mix and he's ecstatic to join them.
"I'm extremely happy with the situation I'm at now, I feel like I have a lot to offer but that's something I have to prove and earn," Russell said. "That's what I look forward to doing, working hard and earning some minutes."