A lot of print has been devoted to Kris Russell, 3rd rounder in the '05 entry draft, and rightfully so. At roughly the same size as most of the JV players at Dublin Jerome, Russell isn't your typical imposing NHL defender. So, at 20 years old, what is he doing in the NHL?
Well, the kid can play hockey, and play it well. He moves the puck as well as any defenseman the Jackets have ever had on the roster. Some of his passes just make you ask, "How did that get through there?" And even lacking size, he's positionally sound on d...well, other than that one time he was out of position against Dallas.
The stats aren't glowing, he's got 2 points and is -1 (see: Out of position v. Dallas) through the first 10 games. A lot of what he's done in his first ten games in the league isn't showing up on the stat sheet so far...he's played solid d, but in the offensive zone he knows when to pinch and where. He had one rush where he just pulled away from everybody on the ice, then hit the post with his shot. He's set up Rick Nash with a pass through the crease, and he's shaken off checks from men 90 pounds heavier than him. So far, Kris Russell has made the decision to keep him seem like the right one.
On the flip side, Hitch has protected him so far, keeping his ice time under 15 minutes per game for the most part. In last Saturday's ugly-fest against the Sharks, Kris only had 11:16 of ice time, so when the game gets tight defensively, the rookie is going to sit. I think that's as much for his maturation process as it is for protection of the lead. Why throw the kids to the wolves when Rusty, Footer, and Hejda can eat the minutes and keep the puck out of our zone? No reason to pressure the kid too much.
But in the offensive zone, Russell has been a joy to watch so far. The speed and the hands have been a joy to watch so far. Sure, he's made his share of mistakes, he's still a rookie and has played all of 10 games so far, but he's still in there. I like what this kid brings to the table and can't wait to see more of it.