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Stars bolster defense with trade for Russell

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

Stars GM Jim Nill dipped into the trade market Monday and added a veteran presence to his blue line, acquiring Kris Russell from the Calgary Flames in exchange for defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka, forward prospect Brett Pollock and a conditional second-round pick in 2016.

“He’s a veteran defenseman. He’s played in the playoffs, World Championship and high-pressure games,” Nill said of Russell. “Ultra-competitive, a warrior, good skater and he moves the puck well. He’s known as a supreme shot blocker.”

The 28-year-old Russell has played nine NHL seasons with Columbus, St. Louis and Calgary. He’s played 562 games, recording 173 points (38 goals, 135 assists). He led the league in blocked shots last season and ranks second this season. He’s a left-shot who is listed at 5-10, 175 pounds.

“To him, size doesn’t mean anything. It is the size of the heart. That’s how he plays,” Nill said. “He was an assistant captain in Calgary, so he has great leadership skills.”

Russell is in the final year of his contract and being a pending unrestricted free agent, he knew there was the possibility of a trade. He’s looking forward to joining the Stars for the stretch drive and a playoff run and finding out where he fits.

“I just want to go in there and earn some minutes and play well on both sides of the puck and try to help this team win,” he said. “I think I bring a competitive two-way game. I strive to be a consistent player whether it’s a practice or a game. I am just really excited about the opportunity to play for the Stars and seeing where they want me to play and how they want me to play.”

Russell has been out of the Calgary lineup since Feb. 12 due to a lower-body injury, but said he is ready to return to playing.

“We wanted to make sure I was 100 percent before I came back and I am feeling great,” Russell said. “I’ve been skating the past four or five days, and it’s felt good, so I am ready to go.”

When Russell plays for the Stars is still unclear. There are work visa issues to sort through.

As for the other side of the equation, getting Russel came at a cost. The Stars gave up Jokipakka, who has played 91 games for the Stars the past two seasons.

“That’s the tough part of the business. He was pretty shaken up,” Nill said. “His whole hockey life here has been with the Dallas Stars and Texas Stars. He’s a great young man, he’s got a great career in the NHL, and he’s going to go to Calgary, and there’s going to be more opportunity. He’s got a great career ahead of him.”

The Stars selected Pollock in the second round of the 2014 NHL Draft. He is currently playing with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League, where he has 67 points (25 goals, 42 assists) in 64 games.

“He’s a good prospect,” Nill said. “He’s going to be a great fit in Calgary. They know him well. He’s from Alberta.”

And there’s the conditional second-round pick in 2016 the Stars sent to the Flames. The conditions for the pick are: If the Stars advance to the Western Conference Final in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, and Russell dresses in fifty percent of the games in the first two rounds, the draft choice will become a first-round pick in 2016.

“That’s part of making a trade. What we do in the playoffs will dictate that,” Nill said.

Overall, Nill said what went the other way for Russell was the “price of doing business.” But he thinks the Stars are in good shape moving forward. He noted that the Stars have picked up young players like forward Mattias Janmark and defensemen Stephen Johns and Mattias Backman in trades over the past year.

“We have good depth in the organization,” Nill said. “We are in a good situation. We have lots of depth, lots of young players, and we could afford to do it. And I am still going to try to get that pick back, maybe at the draft or through a trade. We’ll figure something out.”

But for now, Nill believes the Stars made a solid addition on the blue line with Russell.

“When you start to approach the playoffs, you can’t replace experience,” Nill said. “You can never have enough defensemen when you approach the playoffs. This is just something we thought made sense for our team.”

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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