Oilers coach McLellan defends Russell from ‘nerds out there’

Edmonton Oilers' Kris Russell scores on his own net after being pressured by Toronto Maple Leafs' Nazem Kadri with just over a minute left in the game, his attempt to clear beats Laurent Brossoit and stands as the game winner.

Edmonton Oilers coach Todd McLellan made an impassioned stand in defence of defenceman Kris Russell on Saturday.

The Oilers lost a heartbreaker against the Toronto Maple Leafs in regulation on Thursday after Russell shot the game-winning goal into his own net with 1:05 remaining.

Russell, who’s typically played on Edmonton’s third pairing this season, is a polarizing figure in hockey; a shot-blocking defenceman who will earn $4 million a season through 2020-21.

“Kris Russell is a character individual and that’s why our team cares so much about him,” said McLellan, before referring to Russell’s own-goal on Thursday. “Whoever’s criticizing this individual probably has never played a competitive sport in their life and if they have and they’ve been perfect and that event never occurred to them, then they should be in the Hall of Fame somewhere.

“Mistakes happen.”

The worst part of Thursday’s gaffe might have been that it spoiled an otherwise impressive performance from the 30-year-old.

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He tied the game 4-4 with a one-timer in the third, after assisting on Connor McDavid‘s goal earlier in the frame.

The 5-foot-10 defenceman’s teams routinely get outshot when he’s on the ice, however, something critics point to when discussing his overall value.

McLellan was having none of it.

“But what he means to our team … and I know all the analytic nerds out there find ways to run him into the ground but he means a lot to our team,” said McLellan. “Every single one of those players, regardless of the goal the other night he put into his own net will tell you that any day in any place. … So analytics that, if you want.”

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