EDMONTON - Friday night was an evening of changes for the Oilers as one announcement rolled out after another.
With one exhibition game left to go in the pre-season, the Oilers sent forward Nail Yakupov to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a conditional 2017 third-round pick and forward Zach Pochiro. (The pick will become a 2018 second-round selection if Yakupov scores 15 or more goals.)
Less than three hours later, the club announced they signed defenceman Kris Russell to a one-year deal.
"It's tough to see guys go but you get players in return that are going to help your team win," said Oilers forward Jordan Eberle. "I think Nail is going to do well. He'll have a fresh start in St. Louis and obviously having Kris here, he's going to be a puck-moving defenceman and going to help us break out of our zone."
Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli said Russell was a need he found could be utilized for the defensive core. Russell ranked second in the NHL in 2015-16 with 210 blocked shots and led the league in the same category the season before, deflecting 283 shots.
"I think we've made (our defence) significantly better this year and adding Kris on top of that, I think, rounds it out, makes it more diverse," Chiarelli said.
READY TO PLAY
Choosing to rock the number four on his jersey, Russell said he's excited at the new opportunity that lies before him.
"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," he said. "That's what I look forward to doing, working hard and earning some minutes."
After playing 51 games with the Calgary Flames at the start of last year, Russell wrapped up the 2015-16 season with the Dallas Stars, recording four goals and 15 assists for 19 points in all, and contributing four assists in 12 post-season games.
Although the Caroline, AB native has some playing experience on the other side of the Battle of Alberta rivalry - and he cheered for the Flames in his younger years - Russell said there is nothing holding him back from the orange and blue pride.
"At the end of the day, I was proud to be a Calgary Flame, I'm not going to lie, but at the same time I'm extremely happy to be an Edmonton Oiler," he said. "I'm committed to this team and everything about this city now and I'm getting to know this city a bit more now - I'm looking forward to it."
At 5-foot-10, Russell may be considered smaller than your average blueliner, but McLellan likes what he has to bring to the table.
"He's a competitive guy," he 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 wouldn't make it. He obviously made it and he's been able to be successful from that point on."
RUSSELL TO THE RIGHT, SEKERA LEFT
McLellan is, admittedly, mixing it up.
The Oilers head coach, who made a few minor tweaks to the lines at Friday's practice, is not only going to try his hand at playing Leon Draisaitl on the wing, but will shift defenceman Andrej Sekera to the left. Russell makes his Oilers debut on the right.
"Sekera is going to play left and we'll see how Kris does on the right side," said McLellan. "He's played there in the past and that's the plan right now."
The 29 year old is a veteran of nine NHL seasons with Columbus, St. Louis, Calgary and Dallas, accumulating 177 points (38G, 139A) in 573 games.
"We see him being a puck-moving type d-man, create some speed from our backend, delivering pucks on breakouts, he's a good penalty killer, he blocks a ton of shots and fronts a lot of offences off of that," said McLellan. "Knocking pucks down and get going the other way.
"It'll take him some time… I wouldn't over-evaluate his game on tonight's performance. He hasn't been in camp at all and it will take him a little time to get going but we think he'll improve."
At the end of the day, McLellan sees the changes that Chiarelli made as ones that better the club.
"Insanity is sticking to what you've always done and ending up with the same results, especially if they're negative, so he hasn't been afraid to go out and make some moves," the coach said.
"[Chiarelli] has been aggressive with it, he's provided us with some new tools, - we talked about that as a group - where it's on us, it's on the coaching staff, it's on the players to come in and perform. He shuffled the deck, he's made a number of changes.
"The mental approach to the game should be a little bit different because of all the changes. And what's really important to understand is that the players that have left here don't shoulder any blame… As these transactions happen it looks like you're slopping blame or poking holes in those individuals. That's not the case. It's just us trying to get better as a group."
-- Meg Tilley, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (5-2-0) vs. CANUCKS (2-2-2)
TV: 7 p.m. MT; Televised on Sportsnet 360
Oilers team scope: Newly signed defenceman Kris Russell skated with the team Saturday morning and will play tonight. ... Patrick Maroon has had an excellent training camp for the Oilers, with two goals and four points in four games. Those four games include a shortened game against Vancouver last week when he left with an injury. ... After missing a handful of days due to illness, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins should return to the lineup tonight. Leon Draisaitl was skating on RNH's wing on Friday at practice and Coach McLellan hinted they might try that configuration in game action. ... Cam Talbot is likely to get the call in goal with Jonas Gustavsson having played on Thursday against the Jets.
Canucks team scope: Through six games, the Canucks have won two, lost two and tied two. ... Troy Stecher has had a good camp but his best game came last week against the Oilers when he had a goal and two helpers. ... Alex Edler has been outstanding for the Canucks this pre-season with five assists in four games. ... Markus Granlund has a goal and two assists in four pre-season games. Jacob Markstrom has only played one game so far so the Canucks might look to get him some extra action before the season starts.