It’s almost comical how the perceptions fans – and sometimes media – have for players is how a player is expected to develop. Obviously you expect good things from first rounders (Derick Brassard, Nikita Filatov) or guys who have big first seasons (Steve Mason). Sometimes you’re gifted with met expectations (Brassard, to some degree), and sometimes you’re left wanting more (Mason, Filatov). But realistically, not every first round draft pick is going to turn into a Rick Nash or a Steven Stamkos. The talent is not always that deep. As evidenced in the 2010 draft – there were two primary prospects who were expected to be the crème of the crop. (Were they, in retrospect? Not yet, at least.) The other 28 kids taken in that round were, essentially, the actual first round. You can’t expect #30 to be #1, and you can’t expect it overnight.
Similarly, why does anybody expect Kris Russell to be Drew Doughty or Cam Fowler? They were different-round picks. Different ages. Different sizes. Different backgrounds. Russell was a 30-goal scoring WHL Defenseman of the Year, but he is a 5’10” (generous), 180 (again, generous) sometimes-clumsy-but-speedy skater. He was also a third round draft pick because of one thing: his size. That is the same reason teams were hesitant to draft him higher and is the same reason he has gone through growing pains in the NHL. He isn’t conveniently large like Marc Methot – he has to use his feet, stick, and mobility to get into places the bigger guys just are. (Sidenote, Russell has 31 more blocked shots than Methot and 37 more than Tyutin, our so-called defensive defensemen.)
And who says he’s got to score 20 goals to be effective at his “style” of play? He is a “puck-moving defenseman” not a “goal scoring defenseman” and has excelled in moving the puck up ice as he’s expected to (in a way that only he and Clitsome have managed to do). But that doesn’t always translate to the score sheet. If the forwards aren’t effective with the puck themselves, the ability of the defenseman to move the play out of his zone goes unnoticed on the score sheet and shamefully, to the eye of most of the fans. But for the most part, Russell’s ability to move the puck forward does not come at the expense of the defense the way it hurts Fedor Tyutin or Anton Stralman.
Is it because the Dispatch and the media like to tout every player as “the next [insert player here]” that people build up unreasonable expectations of players? Did Scott Arniel or Scott Howson ever tell you that Kris Russell was going to be a Norris Trophy winner? No. He fits the bill for a third-rounder, 5’10”, low cap-hit player moving into his fifth season in the fall, and that’s exactly what he is.