The last seven days have been phenomenal for the St. Louis Blues.
After an underwhelming 6-7 start to the NHL season, the St. Louis Blues fired head coach Davis Payne and replaced him with the seasoned Ken Hitchcock. In their first game under "Hitch," the Blues dominated and shut out the Chicago Blackhawks, 3-0.
The victory Tuesday came on a night in which the Blues held a pregame ceremony to honor Pavol Demitra and Igor Korolev. The former Blues were involved in the tragic September plane crash which carried the KHL's Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team in Russia. The crash killed them along with 42 other people, leaving just one survivor.
Thursday, St. Louis hosted the slumping Toronto Maple Leafs and fell 3-2 in a shootout. However, the Blues recovered from being down 2-0 after the first period and finished strong to force the overtime.
After the loss, rumors circulated of a deal involving the division-rival Columbus Blue Jackets. Friday morning, the details were released and the deal was officially announced. In the defenseman swap, the Blues acquired Kris Russell for Nikita Nikitin.
Overall, the St. Louis Blues should be ecstatic about this deal.
Russell, 24, has played in 288 NHL games while amassing 79 points with Columbus. This season, Columbus is off to a horrible 2-12-1 start, but Russell has played well. He has three points and 13 penalty minutes in 12 games.
Nikitin, 25, has much less experience and hasn't met the Blues' expectations since being drafted in 2004. The native Russian has played in 48 games and has just nine points. In seven games this season, Nikitin is pointless and achieved a minus-five plus/minus rating.
If you compare the two, Russell is a much better fit for the Blues. A bit more offensive-minded than Nikitin, Russell is a fast skater with great puck-handling skills. The Blues already have a duo of defensemen like this, featuring youngsters Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. Both have had success in St. Louis.
The concerns about Kris Russell are his plus/minus and his size.
At just 5'10" and 174 pounds, Russell is much smaller than the average defenseman. This has led to disbelief in his defensive ability, but the Blues have a large defensive corps in tact and will allow Russell to use his size and speed effectively.
The biggest red-flag on Russell has been his plus/minus rating. In Columbus, the 2005 third-rounder collected a frustrating minus-29 total. However, Russell has played on one of the worst teams in the league. Blues fans should not be concerned.
An important aspect of this deal is Russell's experience with new head coach Ken Hitchcock. Hitchcock coached Russell in Columbus and has a lot of faith in the youngster. Grabbing him after just two days in St. Louis really says something.
Getting a younger, faster defenseman like Kris Russell in this deal will prove to be a smart choice in St. Louis. Expect the Blues to make more deals like this as the season progresses.
Steven Conklin is a contributing writer for the Bleacher Report and a student at the University of Central Missouri. He joined the B/R in October 2011. Any comments, questions, or suggestions are more than welcome.
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