Trade of left-handed defensemen sends Nikitin to Columbus
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues completed a trade on Friday that had been consummated Thursday night, acquiring defenseman Kris Russell from the Columbus Blue Jackets for fellow defenseman Nikita Nikitin.
Russell, 24, is a 5-foot-10 and 174 pound left-handed shot. He's in the second year of a three-year, $3.9 million that pays him $1.3 million per season. A third-round pick (67th overall) in 2005, Russell has 79 points (18 goals, 61 assists) over parts of four seasons with the Jackets, including two goals and one assist in 12 games this season.
Defenseman Kris Russell (10) was acquired by the Blues Friday for
defenseman Nikita Nikitin.
"He brings a new dimension," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of Russell. "He adds some speed to our left side and also he adds someone with about 300 games of experience at still a young age.
"Having (Kevin) Shattenkirk and (Alex) Pietrangelo at a young age on the right side, they've played very well. But adding some more experience to that left side is important and also gives us eight excellent, quality defensemen in our opinion."
The trade gained heavy traction Thursday night, but it has been in the works for weeks.
"These trades don't happen in a day," Armstrong said. "(Columbus GM) Scott (Howson) and I have talked over the last couple weeks on just both of our teams. Russell's name came up."
Russell played under Blues coach Ken Hitchcock in Columbus when Hitchcock coached the Jackets and played a role in his acquisition.
"The name was available to us prior to Ken coming with us, but certainly we did tap into that knowledge of his experience with him," Armstrong said. "He was very high on acquiring the player."
Added Hitchcock, "Russ is a guy that transports the puck really well. He's got quickness, he's a guy that can join the attack, is a dangerous player 4 on 4, has a very underrated shot and when he shoots the puck on the move, it comes with velocity and accuracy.
"For me, he's got a lot of attributes that allow us to increase our transition."
The Blues (7-7-1), who are 1-0-1 since Hitchcock's arrival, have seen their six D-men (Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk, Barret Jackman, Carlo Colaiacovo, Roman Polak and Ian Cole) all step in and play well. However, Hitchcock said Russell will play right away.
"My feeling is it's an obligation by an organization," Hitchcock said. "When you trade for a player, get him up and running right away.
"I haven't decided who's coming out. I just know he's going in."
The 25-year-old Nikitin is 6-2, 217 pounds but fell out of favor of sorts with the Blues after struggling in his second season. He had no points in five games and was a minus-5. He was a healthy scratch in eight of the last nine games.
Nikita Nikitin (left) struggled with the Blues in his second season,
was traded to Columbus on Friday for Kris Russell.
A fifth-round draft pick (136th overall) in 2004, Nikitin
"Niki obviously wasn't playing in our organization right now," Armstrong said. "We really like how Ian Cole has progressed. I thought giving Niki an opportunity to play, but also more importantly for the St. Louis Blues, bringing someone with experience that adds a different dimension to our left side. I thought that was very important."
It was obvious Nikitin wasn't going to get into the lineup here anytime soon, and trying to slip him through waivers to send him to Peoria -- even though Nikitin was on a one-way contract at $600,000 -- was likely not going to happen.
"I didn't know Nikitin. All I've seen of him is in practice," Hitchcock said. "He's a big body that's going to be effective there.
"We got the call two days ago on Russ that something was up. It had been up for a little while. ... I know Russ, I don't know Nikitin. I like what Russ brings to your team. Hopefully he can bring the same stuff here."