This is one part of a player-by-player Year in Review series we’ll be doing over the next couple months as we look back on the 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers season.
2017-18 Edmonton Oilers No. 4: Kris Russell
GP: 78 – G: 4, A: 17, PTS: 21
One of Peter Chiarelli’s better moves as Edmonton’s general manager was the low-risk signing of Kris Russell to a one-year, $3.1 million deal prior to the start of the 2016-17. Russell, while lauded for having poor fancy stats, played alongside Andrej Sekera and was ultimately the final piece to a thoroughly solid Oilers blueline.
Chiarelli decided to give Russell a four-year, $16 million deal the following off-season. With his partner Sekera set to miss the first half of the season, Chiarelli figured that Russell’s veteran presence was necessary for Edmonton’s lineup. But, in 2017-18, without his familiar partner, Russell wasn’t as effective as he was in the previous season.
Russell was the one who suffered the most due to Sekera’s absence. The two of them were stellar together in 2016-17. They played 842:16 even strength minutes together, broke even on unblocked shot attempts percentage, and had a whopping 62.5 Goals For percentage. Without Sekera, Russell was left in flux. He didn’t have a true partner or defined role, really, for the entirety of the season.
Per Natural Stat Trick, his most common partner was Darnell Nurse, as the duo logged 426:13 together. With Russell, Nurse posted a 47.4 Goals For percentage. With anybody else, his Goals For percentage rocketed to 57.1. Russell’s other most common partner was Oscar Klefbom. The two played 217:22 together at even strength and had a horrendous 36.8 Goals For percentage. Klefbom’s Goals For percentage without Russell was a modest 45.9.
Both of those pairings represent Russell sliding up in the lineup into a top-four role. His best results came when playing roughly 180 combined even strength minutes with Eric Gryba or Yohann Auvitu on the team’s third pairing. When with those two, Russell put up a very steady 53.3 Goals For percentage and a close-to-even unblocked shot attempt differential. It’s when he slid up in the lineup and took on a bigger role than Russell started to struggle and ultimately assisted in catering both Nurse and Klefbom’s results.
Before Sekera was hurt, the Oilers appeared to be rolling into 2018-19 with a blueline of Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning, and Sekera and Russell, which is identical to the one that saw so much success during the team’s playoff run in 2017. With Sekera sidelined for potentially the entire season, the Oilers are now in a virtually identical situation as they were this time last year, figuring out how to fill the gaping hole his injury leaves on the blueline.
Now, yet again, Russell is heading into the season without a partner. We know from his history that he can thrive in a defensive, third-pairing, penalty killing role. As we learned last year, when Russell has moved up the lineup, he tends to struggle. Despite the fact that Sekera’s injury might create a need for him to slide up the depth chart, the Oilers need to keep him in a role in which he can thrive.
So, ultimately, what we learned from last season is that Edmonton has a player in Russell who can anchor the team’s third pair. Now with Sekera injured, the team needs to find somebody who can play alongside him on that third pair.
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