‘Nifty’ Namestnikov a Rising Star

By ,
December 10, 2014

Vladislav Namestnikov

Namestnikov is part of the new-look Lightning.

Amid the illustrious names of Lightning players past (Lecavalier, St. Louis, Richards) and those of Lightning present, sits Vladislav Namestnikov, one of the stars of Lightning future.

His name may be hard for some to pronounce, but get to know it now because he’ll soon be a household hockey name. Go ahead and say it loud and proud: Vla-dih-SLAHV nah-MEHST-nih-kawv. Need a little help? (Click to hear his name pronounced)

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to know “Vladdy,” a Russian-born kid who spent most of his formative years in Detroit idolizing Red Wings great Steve Yzerman, who now just so happens to be the General Manager of the Lightning, not to mention the man who brought him to Tampa.

It has been a trend of late for the Lightning to draft young, skilled Russians to polish and develop. A 2011 draftee, Namestnikov, 22, is one of several Russian-born players in the Lightning’s system and one of the most skilled.

Like many Russians, he is crafty and creative, with a keen playmaker’s eye. Unlike the (often undeserved) Russian stereotype, he is responsible in his own zone. (See a gallery of Vladislav Namestnikov)

In the lead-up to the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, one scout called him “a niftier offensive center” and touted his hard work at both ends of the ice. NHL Central Scouting said “he’s very aggressive on the forecheck and backcheck and has the ability to beat defenders outside and cut back to the net.”

When Hockey VIPs Magazine spoke to him recently, Namestnikov agreed with this assessment.

“I’m a two-way forward,” he said. “I like to get my thing done in the defensive zone, then take it to the offensive zone and lead by example.”

Vladislav Namestnikov

Vladislav Namestnikov celebrates a goal.

In 23 games with the Lightning, he epitomized this philosophy.

Fans might first notice his fierce forechecking and nose for the net, but a closer look reveals a budding faceoff specialist. In his first few games with the big club, he had the highest faceoff percentage of all Lightning centers and was tied for first in takeaways. A logjam of talent and players returning from injury forced management to reassign him to the team’s AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch earlier this month. Don’t expect him to stay there long. In just two games with the Crunch, Namestnikov is on fire, notching 2 goals and 3 assists.

Namestnikov’s seemingly effortless transition from the minors perhaps shouldn’t come as such a surprise. He comes from a family of hockey-playing pros. When he was just a baby, he moved with his family to the U.S. where his father Evgeny (better known as “John”) was playing hockey. The elder Namestnikov played parts of several seasons in the NHL and its affiliates in the 1990s. In fact, his father once played for the Syracuse Crunch as well. The family eventually settled in Detroit where his uncle Slava Kozlov was a star with the Red Wings, Namestnikov’s favorite team.

When he was called up to the Lightning last spring for his first NHL game, he said it was particularly memorable.

“[My] first game was against the Detroit Red Wings,” he enthused. “So I thought that was pretty neat and it was pretty special to me.”

He and the family returned to Russia for a time to be with his ailing grandmother — a transition that he said was not so easy.

“It was hard,” he said. “I had to go to school there and I only knew how to speak Russian. I had to learn how to write and read so that was tough and you know all my friends were here … So it was a little bit of a tough adjustment but I got through it.”

Vladdy Namestnikov

Namestnikov said he was thrilled when he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Namestnikov said things are different in Russia — from the food to the size of the ice to the way the game is taught.

“Bigger ice was the main adjustment,” he said. “I think in Russia at that age [he was 9 at the time], coaches focus more on skills. … Here there’s more skating and stuff … there it’s pretty much skills.”

The one knock scouts had on him was his slight build. Namestnikov said he has committed himself to getting bigger and stronger.

“You can never be good enough,” he said. “I feel like I can improve in every element in my game. I’m just trying to get bigger, put on more muscle and to develop my game — every aspect of it.”

Despite what it says in his passport, Namestnikov said he considers himself an American, having spent most of his life in the West.  But where does he consider home?

“Detroit,” he said.

We suspect that in the near future Namestnikov will be calling the Tampa area home for a good long time.

Namestnikov has appeared in 23 games with the Lightning in 2014-15, posting 3 goals and 4 assists for 7 points. He recorded his first NHL goal and assist October 13 in a 7-1 rout of the Montreal Canadiens.

The 5’11, 171-pound centerman tallied his first game-winning goal October 24 in Winnipeg against the Jets. The Zhukovskiy, Russia native has appeared in 102 AHL games, registering 28 goals and 46 assists for 74 points.

In 2013-14, he set AHL career-high totals for games played (56), goals (19), assists (29), points (48) and penalty minutes (40).

Photographs:  From NHL.com, Tampa Bay Lightning

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