When the Chicago Blackhawks drafted Phil Russell in 1972, there was no mystery about the kind of player they were about to usher into their organization. The big rearguard had just completed a two-year stint with the Edmonton Oil Kings where he led the WCJHL in penalty minutes while showcasing an abundance of hockey skill.
Russell made the leap directly onto the Hawks' blueline corps in 1972-73. From the moment he hit the ice in training camp, the rookie defender made a strong impression on the minds of management and on the bodies of his teammates and opponents.
He arrived in the big leagues as a soft-spoken but hard-nosed type who could skate well for his size, play with muscle, handle the puck with confidence, and contribute to the power play.
Russell remained a bellicose mainstay on the Hawks' defense for almost seven seasons. In 1979, his club couldn't resist the opportunity to land the star potential of Tom Lysiak. The trade, one of the larger in league history, displaced a wagonload of players, including Russell who went south to Atlanta.
Initially, the big blueliner was not happy to be dispatched to the Flames. He was fiercely loyal to the Windy City and its team. He considered the move to be a rap on his reputation. But upon further reflection, he eventually recognized that the change had brought a renewed spirit that raised his level of play.
Russell continued to play his game of solid defense for a season and a half and then joined his team in its move to Calgary. He remained in Alberta until his trade to the New Jersey Devils in 1983. By then, he was at the tail end of a lengthy career and the Devils were at the tail end of the league's standing. Nonetheless, he toiled on for three seasons until his trade to the Buffalo Sabres in 1985.
With the Sabres, Russell suited up for only a handful of games over the two seasons he spent with the organization. In 1987-88, he jumped down to the Kalamazoo Wings of the IHL where he concluded his career after appearing in only 27 games.