I admire and respect players like Kris Russell because he’s one of those guys willing to contribute what he can and do whatever it takes to win — dirty, grunt work like blocking shots and banging bodies. Russell gives you all he’s got, even if, in the eyes of some, it’s just never good enough. Then again, it doesn’t really matter what I, or those prone to discount or dismiss such attributes, think. What matters is what Russell’s teammates with the Edmonton Oilers think.
In that regard, there was no doubt what Russell’s teammates thought in the wake of his own-goal in a 6-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Nov. 30. Russell got righteously roasted by many after the gaffe and faced the music in the dressing room after the game. As you’d expect, teammates had his back because that’s what teammates do. It went a step beyond the norm, though, two days later when coach Todd McLellan levelled a blast at “all the analytic nerds out there” who seem to take great delight in hammering Russell every chance they get. That right there tells me how valuable Russell is to the people who matter — his teammates. Unsung hero? Damn straight.

Kris Russell

Defense — shoots L
Born May 2, 1987 — Caroline, ALTA
Height 5.10 — Weight 173 [178 cm/78 kg]
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Round 3 #67 overall 2005 NHL Entry Draft

BY THE NUMBERS

Season
Age
Tm
GP
G
A
PTS
+/-
PIM
S
S%
TOI
ATOI
HIT
BLK
2007-08
20
67
2
8
10
-12
14
90
2.2
991
14:47
31
64
2008-09
21
66
2
19
21
-10
28
86
2.3
1064
16:07
50
62
2009-10
22
70
7
15
22
3
32
108
6.5
1301
18:35
101
96
2010-11
23
73
5
18
23
-9
37
88
5.7
1279
17:31
63
128
2011-12
24
TOT
55
6
6
12
12
25
56
10.7
936
17:01
61
78
2011-12
24
12
2
1
3
-1
13
20
10.0
211
17:34
9
15
2011-12
24
43
4
5
9
13
12
36
11.1
725
16:51
52
63
2012-13
25
33
1
6
7
6
9
41
2.4
530
16:03
26
57
2013-14
26
68
7
22
29
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-11
15
109
6.4
1573
23:08
42
201
2014-15
27
79
4
30
34
18
17
111
3.6
1892
23:57
61
283
2015-16
28
TOT
62
4
15
19
-5
10
70
5.7
1431
23:05
40
210
2015-16
28
51
4
11
15
-4
8
56
7.1
1166
22:52
31
174
2015-16
28
11
0
4
4
-1
2
14
0.0
264
24:02
9
36
2016-17
29
68
1
12
13
5
23
68
1.5
1443
21:13
67
213
2017-18
30
26
2
9
11
4
2
33
6.1
463
17:50
26
67
5 yrs
CBJ
288
18
61
79
-29
124
392
4.6
4845
16:49
254
365
3 yrs
CGY
198
15
63
78
3
40
276
5.4
4632
23:23
134
658
2 yrs
EDM
94
3
21
24
9
25
101
3.0
1906
20:17
93
280
2 yrs
STL
76
5
11
16
19
21
77
6.5
1255
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16:30
78
120
1 yr
DAL
11
0
4
4
-1
2
14
0.0
264
24:02
9
36
Career
667
41
160
201
1
212
860
4.8
12902
19:21
568
1459

PLAYOFFS

Season
Age
Tm
GP
G
A
PTS
+/-
PIM
S
S%
TOI
ATOI
HIT
BLK
2008-09
21
4
1
1
2
0
2
5
20.0
67
16:40
1
4
2011-12
24
9
0
3
3
3
5
7
0.0
175
19:27
8
19
2014-15
27
11
2
5
7
-9
7
13
15.4
294
26:45
11
54
2015-16
28
12
0
4
4
1
4
8
0.0
239
19:57
14
24
2016-17
29
13
0
4
4
2
4
16
0.0
286
22:02
21
54
Career
49
3
17
20
-3
22
49
6.1
1062
21:40
55
155

WHY HE MAKES IT

Feb 2, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Nashville Predators left wing Harry Zolnierczyk (26) skates with the puck as Edmonton Oilers defenseman Kris Russell (4) defends in front of Predators left wing Cody McLeod (55) during the first period at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
I was going to have Russell on this list regardless of what happened against Toronto. In the name of timeliness, I’ve moved him a spot down in the aftermath of what McLellan had to say about the hard-nosed cowboy’s kid from Caroline and the over-the-top criticism he took after his Steve Smith moment. It’s not what McLellan’s words say about those who seem to make sport of kicking Russell around that stuck with me, it’s what those words say about his value to the team.
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“Kris Russell is a character individual and that’s why our team cares so much about him,” McLellan said. “Whoever’s criticizing this individual probably has never played a competitive sport in their life and if they have and they’ve been perfect and that event never occurred to them, then they should be in the Hall of Fame somewhere. Mistakes happen.
“But what he means to our team — and I know all the analytic nerds out there find ways to run him into the ground — but he means a lot to our team. Every single one of those players, regardless of the goal the other night he put into his own net, will tell you that any day in any place. … so, analytics that, if you want.” The full interview is here.
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THE FINE PRINT

Feb 24, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Kris Russell (4) passes the puck as Washington Capitals center Marcus Johansson (90) defends in the first period at Verizon Center. The Capitals won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
I spent enough seasons inside NHL dressing rooms to know players circle the wagons when it comes to dealing with outside criticism of a teammate. The question is the degree to which it’s done — that’s where you get a real read on how any given player is regarded by his teammates and how much he is respected for his overall contribution. Russell rates as high as any player in the Unsung Hero category as anybody I’ve seen on this team in the post-Cup era — he’s up there with Mike Grier and Matt Hendricks and on and on.
As close as I was in my years on the beat, I learned that you can’t get the full measure of a player within the framework of a team solely by what happens on the ice during games and practices, even supplemented by being a regular in the dressing room, on the bus and flying on the team charter. That shouldn’t be confused with not being allowed to have an opinion and make it known — that goes for MSM people, bloggers and fans in general. It just means those takes are weighted accordingly by coaches and players who spend a lot of time together behind closed doors outsiders of all stripes are not party to.
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“He’s a guy you would go to war for,” captain Connor McDavid said after the Toronto game. “He does everything for us. He throws himself in shooting lanes where most guys would be diving to get out of the way. He puts himself in harm’s way. He battles so hard each and every night . . .” Those who believe McDavid, McLellan and the teammates who have Russell’s back are somehow mistaken because what they say doesn’t align with their assessment or because they can’t (or refuse to) measure the value of the attributes he brings to the team, are welcome to that opinion. They don’t share it. Neither do I.
This series of various Top 10 lists will focus on the post-1990 Oilers – the players who haven’t played on a Stanley Cup winner in Edmonton.
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The List: