Kris Russell had a solid first half of the season.
He leads the Oilers defencemen in scoring with 16 points. He is +4. He has a 52.54 FF%, trailing only Oscar Klefbom 52.6% and Darnell Nurse 56.5%.
He’s played every game, has skated the second most EV minutes among defenders and he’s only played 180 minutes of his 627 5×5 minutes with Connor McDavid.
He’s only taken three minor penalties, leads the NHL in blocked shots with 121, and 14 of his 16 points have come at even strength, which has him tied for 23rd among NHL defencemen in EV scoring. He is tied with the likes of Brent Burns, Zack Werenski and Ryan McDonagh and is one point ahead of Duncan Keith, Keith Yandle and Shayne Gostisbehere.
There have been very few bright spots on the Oilers in the first half, but Russell and Darnell Nurse have been very good on the blueline. Nurse has been their best defender, but Russell has been very steady. Russell isn’t a perfect player, but I find too often his critics focus on what he doesn’t do and overlook what he does well. He is highly respected in the dressing room, because he competes every night. His teammates don’t have to worry if he’ll show up. Not many Oilers can say they have been as consistent as Russell this season.
Sure, he misses the odd pass, but so do most defenders. Russell has done far more positive than negative for the Oilers this season, and has been their second best defender.
He’s playing 18:33/game and he’s flourished playing a fewer EV minutes than last year. More isn’t always better. He is a smaller player and I believe fatigue plays a factor. He looks fresher and he’s giving the Oilers more quality minutes.
With the struggles of the powerplay, I’d look to give him some PP time. He has two PP points in 18:27 of PP time.
Klefbom has four points in 111:28 while Matt Benning has two points in 50:47. Russell has been much more productive when given some PP time.
The powerplay is stagnant. It has regressed from the first 20 games when it was 21.2%. In the last 21 games, the PP is an anemic 10.3% (6 of 58). I wouldn’t increase his EV minutes, but as the PP continues to struggle I’d give him a second look.
Of course, if the Oilers just continue to pass it around the perimeter it won’t matter which defender is out there, but Russell has a good enough shot to play the PP, and he has put up decent PP numbers in the past when given the opportunity.
I keep reading and hearing how the Russell signing has crippled the Oilers, but so far he has more than lived up to his deal. None of us knows how the future will unfold, but if Russell continues to play this well those concerns should be tempered.
Klefbom has played banged up, so he gets a bit more rope, but he needs to be better on the powerplay, no question. Adam Larsson needs to play better. He needs to move the puck up ice more frequently, instead of cross ice to his partner. Matt Benning needs to be more consistent. Andrej Sekera has struggled, which I expected coming off ACL surgery, but if those four can make small improvements the Oilers slim playoff hopes can at least keep flickering.
Right now Nurse and Russell have carried the defence, but they will need the others to improve in the second half and into next season.
NHL CAN BE A TOUGH BUSINESS
Yesterday Laurent Brossoit was looking ahead to playing on Sunday, but now he faces the reality that his NHL dream is over, for the time being. The Oilers acquired veteran backup Al Montoya from Montreal yesterday for a conditional draft pick. If Montoya plays seven games for the Oilers this season Montreal gets a fourth round pick in 2018. If he plays fewer than seven games it will be a fifth round pick. Montoya has another year remaining on his contract and Peter Chiarelli acquired him to be their back up for this season and next.
Now Brossoit will battle Nick Ellis for playing time in the AHL, and he’ll need to play well to earn another contract.
We should never forget the human aspect of sports. In a span of 24 hours, Brossoit goes from living his dream to now battling to get another contract. The NHL landscape changes fast. It is a great accomplishment to make it to the NHL, but it is extremely difficult to stay there. We’ll see if Brossoit can make it back.
Montoya’s last four seasons as a backup:
2014 WPG: 28 games. .920sv% and 2.30GAA
2015 FLO: 20 games. .892sv% and 3.01 GAA
2016 FLO: 25 games. .919sv% and 2.18 GAA
2017 MTL: 19 games. .912sv% and 2.67GAA
He’s only played four games this season, and hasn’t played since November 4th after Dustin Byfuglien hit him in the head with a slap shot and Montoya suffered a concussion. His 3.77 GAA and .863sv% this year don’t look great, but most would agree it is a very small sample size. His past four seasons have been decent for a backup.
Congratulations to Edmonton product Tyrell Goulbourne, who is set to make his NHL debut with the Philadelphia Flyers tomorrow. He was supposed to play last night vs. the New York Islanders, but travel problems prevented him from getting to Philadelphia in time. I’m sure the delay will only make tomorrow sweeter. I met Tyrell when he was 16 years old. I was staying in shape doing Crossfit at Spark Sport Conditioning. I loved it and one day this young kid comes in and was training with Kim Layton. He wanted to get stronger. He was going to play for Kelowna in the WHL the next fall and was getting serious about training.
The first day it was apparent he was one of those freak, natural athletes. He was incredibly quick and his agility and mobility was off the charts. He was naturally strong. I only spoke to him and his father a few times, but I always remembered him. He had a strong drive and work ethic. He wasn’t an elite scorer but was fast, determined and tough. He is a bottom-six type player with speed, good on the forecheck, kills penalties and will fight if needed. He has 20 pro fights in two and a half seasons.
I’ve followed his career over the years and I am thrilled for him and his family. It never gets old watching someone fulfill their dreams. Enjoy the moment Tyrell.
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