Russo, 22, was drafted by the Islanders in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Draft out of the U.S. National Development Program. The 6-foot, 191-pound blue liner posted 41 points (15 goals, 26 assists) putting him one point behind reported Blackhawks target Mike Reilly from Minnesota -- the most highly-coveted defenseman free agent this summer -- for the lead in goals among all defenseman. The Notre Dame captain also earned second-team All-American honors.
The Blackhawks were linked to Reilly in early May, and Russo provides a second option if the Hawks are unable to sign the former Golden Gopher. Both players would sign relatively similar entry-level contracts, however, Reilly officially becomes a free agent earlier because he withdrew from Minnesota and becomes a free agent 30 days afterwards in mid-June, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie.
The connection to the Hawks for Reilly is with Pat Brisson, who represents both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Brisson will serve as a family advisor for Reilly.
There are also ties between the Hawks and Russo. The Westmont, Ill. native played with Vincent Hinostroza, who left Notre Dame early and signed with the Hawks on March 21. The other connection is Hawks general manager Stan Bowman, who is a Notre Dame graduate, and has moved the Hawks training camp to the Irish's campus.
Unlike Hawks prospect Ryan Hartman, a West Dundee, Ill. native, and Hawks backup goaltender Scott Darling, a Lemont, Ill. native, Russo did not grow up a Hawks fan despite the proximity to the team. Russo was a Red Wings fan growing up, according to Second City Hockey staff writer Ryan Hood, who attended high school with him for two years.
Russo was ranked 55th by SB Nation College Hockey's Top 100 NHL Prospects in the NCAA:
"Russo came back to Notre Dame after missing the second half of last season due to academic problems and has been a leader for a young Irish team all season, recently earning the right to wear the captain's 'C'. Russo is a solid all-around player, though he likely lacks size to be a big defensive presence at the pro level. He's added a more offensive dimension to his game this season, however, as one of the top-scoring defenseman in all of college hockey."