Kris Russell has been called a stay-at-home defenceman, a shot blocker and a reliable veteran. Some time in the next few days, he’ll add a new line to his resume: father.
“I don’t know if you’re ever ready,” Russell said Monday morning after skating at Perry Pearn’s Hockey Camp at K of C Twin Arenas. His wife, Casi, is set to give birth to their first child, a daughter.
Russell, 30, might not know what to expect from fatherhood, but he is prepared for his second season with the Edmonton Oilers. He signed a four-year, $16-million contract with the Oilers in June. It’s a far cry from the 2016 off-season. He was without a team all summer before joining the Oilers late in the preseason.
“At this time last year, I was still looking for a contract,” Russell recalled. “I’m excited they showed some trust in me. But with that, my expectations are higher. I want to play better and do more to help this team.”
Russell’s role extends beyond what he can do on the ice. He’s become a mentor to the Oilers’ younger blueliners like Matthew Benning and Darnell Nurse.
“If you can give back and help out a young guy, it’s rewarding,” Russell said. “With my size, I’ve had to learn to play positionally. My structure has to be really good. I’ve had to make sure that I’m aware. Little things that I’ve picked up on players over the years, if I can pass on, maybe it’ll help them.”
Russell is encouraged by the continuity with the Oilers defence. The top seven defencemen from last year will all return. In fact, he believes the familiarity has already shone through.
“I think it showed last year,” he said. “There were some injuries. I went for a bit. Some guys went out here and there. Our pace of play didn’t slow down. Guys stepped in and played big, solid minutes. I think we have a deep defence corps now.
“We have to keep better as a defensive unit. All the ingredients are there. We just have to make sure our work ethic and attention to details are better.”