Russell grew up in Caroline, Alberta, where his father, Doug, coached him for much of his minor hockey career and converted him into a defenseman when he was 10 years old. He emerged as a top defenseman in the Western Hockey League with Medicine Hat, where he won two championships (2003-04, 2006-07) and was twice named the major-junior league's top defenseman (2005-06, 2006-07).
Russell was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third round (No. 67) of the 2005 NHL Draft. He made his NHL debut with Columbus on Oct. 5, 2007, getting an assist at home against the Anaheim Ducks. Russell scored his first two NHL goals Jan. 22, 2008, at the Dallas Stars.