In his debut season in the AHL, Robbie Russo posted a league-leading +40 +/- rating and lead the Grand Rapids Griffins’ defensemen in scoring with 39 points.
Russo, a 23-year old native of Westmont, Illinois, was signed by the Detroit Red Wings to a two-year entry level contract prior to the 2015-2016 season, and has certainly become one of the most intriguing blue-liners to watch out for in the Red Wings’ Top 25 Under 25 this year.
Born: February 15, 1993
Weight: 195 lbs
The right-handed defenseman and former New York Islanders 4th-round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft seems to have been a steal for Kenny Holland and crew after the Islanders lost Russo’s rights due to four years of NCAA play. Russo played four seasons with the University of Notre Dame and during his senior year in 2014-15, he served as team captain and tallied 41 points in 40 games for the Fighting Irish, leading NCAA defensemen with 15 goals.
After a great senior year, Russo decided to test free agency in 2015 and was signed to a two-year entry level contract with the Red Wings in August. Russo got off to a quick start with the Grand Rapids Griffins, posting 5 points (1 G, 4 A) in his first 9 games, and he never looked back from there. Throughout the season, the majority of Russo’s offensive contributions came during even strength play (just bow down to the +/- rating), though he did bring some stability to the Griffins’ power play unit as well with one goal and five assists over the course of the season.
Russo surged in early 2016 and had his best month of the season in February, winning the AHL's Player of the Week award on Feb. 29 after posting two goals, five assists and a +8 rating in four games. In the Griffins’ short-lived playoff bid, Russo posted five points (1 G, 4 A) in nine games.
The Right-Handed Defenseman the Red Wings Need?
Though Russo isn’t the biggest defenseman at 6’0” and 195 pounds, he offers a lot of qualities that the Red Wings could use on the blue line. He’s an offensive-minded, right-handed defenseman and a strong skater who makes good decisions with the puck.
Despite his recent success, Russo will have to continue to outshine a handful of Griffins’ defensemen to get a chance at wearing the Winged Wheel during the 2016-17 season, including Xavier Ouelett, Nick Jensen, Ryan Sproul and Brian Lashoff. Lucky for Robbie, the Red Wings’ defensive corps isn’t exactly the cream of the crop, and with the loss of Kyle Quincey this offseason, Russo is one spot closer to making the lineup. However, if Russo does get a spot start, he’ll have to prove himself as an NHL-caliber two-way defender that can contribute offensively and play responsibly in his own end.
Whether he’ll don the winged wheel or not in 2016-17 remains to be seen, but Robbie’s AHL stats don’t lie - he has proven he has the ability to consistently generate scoring chances. With Russo’s offensive upside and right-handed shot (have I mentioned that he’s right-handed yet?), it’s likely he will get at least one spot start in 2016-17, but Ken Holland has made it clear that he’s still looking to upgrade the defense, so time will tell.
Regardless, with Russo, you can consider at least one of Holland’s 2015 offseason signings a success (sorry Brad). If he doesn’t get significant playing time in Detroit this upcoming season, hopefully Wings’ fans will at least see Russo tear it up in Grand Rapids again. Is +50 a reasonable expectation?