Expectations were high for Vlad Namestnikov when the New York Rangers first acquired the forward. In 62 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning prior to the trade, he had reached a career high in goals (20), assists (24), and points (44). Before that, his best was 35 points in 80 games in 2015-16.
After joining the Rangers, he scored just four points in 19 games. While he was revealed to have a shoulder injury which held him out of the 2018 World Championship, that post-deadline performance still put a damper on the expectations for him his year.
The fact then, and still is now, is that his 2017-18 season deserves praise for what it was, but isn’t something he should be held to moving forward. Playing alongside Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos can do wonders for a player’s production. It isn’t to take away from Namestnikov’s accomplishments, but to keep expectations in check because the Rangers clearly are without players of that caliber to help elevate their offense.
This season gave the team a chance to evaluate Namestnikov past what they saw of him in Tampa Bay and his first stint in New York, and the Rangers ultimately invested in him by signing the restricted free agent to a two-year, $8 million contract in the 2018 offseason.
The broad expectations were for him somewhere in the middle six, whether it was on the wing or at center, as he showed he could slot into both positions.
Vladislav Namestnikov is a very good third or second liner; he's flourished recently with very good linemates. pic.twitter.com/ThJIZIArwf— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) February 26, 2018
Namestnikov’s season did not get off to an ideal start. He was scratched in favor of Cody McLeod in the second game of the season, after playing just 9:07 5-on-5 minutes in the opening game of the year. When there was a bench minor taken for too many men in the third period of that game, he was tapped to sit in the penalty box. When he drew back in the following game, he again played less than 10 minutes and only was deployed for only two shifts in the second period.
By the end of October, just 10 games into the season, Namestnikov’s performance, which was mainly from time on the fourth line, was still concerning. He wasn’t scoring enough, nor was he making enough of a case to even move up in the lineup. His underlying numbers were just okay at that point as well, but for a player to not be scoring, they have to be doing something. Had he helped tilt the ice in the Rangers favor consistently or transitioned the puck up the ice frequently, he likely would have been moved up.
At the very least, to become a player for David Quinn to rely on, the effort not only had to be there, it had to be that noticeable. Quinn praises players for their competitiveness and effort, and rewards those that show how hard they’re working. While it’s not to say Namestnikov wasn’t working hard at that time, it just wasn’t translating on the ice or inspiring the coaches to expand his ice time.
As the season went on though, Namestnikov began to carve out a role for him on the 2018-19 Rangers, and became a player for Quinn to lean on. Between his transitional play, penalty killing, and bite, he completely fit the mold of a player Quinn seems to want on his team. After a lackluster start, there were few questions about effort, and more praise about what a hard-nosed player he was.
Namestnikov played throughout the lineup this season, spending time on each on every line, from his time on the fourth, all the way to Mika Zibanejad’s wing on the first.
He was most frequently deployed alongside Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast in 128 5-on-5 minutes; in terms of shots and expected goals, the Rangers were outshot and out-chanced with them on the ice, but relative to other lines, were slightly better with them deployed.
All in all, Namestnikov skated in 78 games and scored 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists). At 5-on-5, he averaged 12:11, and in all situations he skated 15:48 a game.
At 5-on-5, the Rangers took 47 percent of the shots with him on the ice (plus-1.51 relative), and were expected to score 46.31 percent of the goals (minus-1.69 relative). He also had 27 takeaways, was third on the team in hits (129), and absorbed 112 hits, which can be indicative of how many times he was hit in an attempt to strip him of the puck. Namestnikov also did a solid job drawing penalties; his 12 ranked fourth on the team, and he drew four more penalties than he took.
Namestnikov was second in penalty killing minutes among forwards, trailing only Zibanejad. He led the team with five short-handed points of two goals and three assists, along with 17 shot attempts and 14 scoring chances.
In 108 minutes on the power play, Namestnikov had one goal and two assists. He also only had 19 shot attempts and 14 scoring chances, which is just behind and equal to his numbers short-handed.
It was thought that Namestnikov may have been moved at the deadline to a team looking for either a winger or center to bolster their forward depth for two playoff runs, but he’s still a Ranger as of May 2019 — whether or not he remains one is the question.
His role this season may have hurt his value, since as Namestnikov has shown throughout his career, the more offensive his linemates, the better his scoring can be. His offensive impact besides his scoring was somewhat underwhelming, but he was still solid defensively. Overall, he was solid for a third-liner, which is what he was deployed as for much of the season.
Namestnikov’s a useful player that can be plugged into any line and situation, and be trusted in his own zone. If he’s still with the team, since the Rangers may still be looking to flip some of their players on expiring contracts to infuse more youth into their lineup, he’ll likely have a role in this lineup since his efforts appeared to be appreciated by Quinn as the year went on.
That role could be to slide wherever he’s asked, whether it’s a more defensive role lower in the lineup, in the top-six, at center to alleviate one of their younger players of the pressures, or just to be a mentor to a team that is anticipated to be full of youth next season.
Final Grade: B+
Banter Consensus: B
All data via NaturalStatTrick
2019 Report Cards: Ryan Strome / Filip Chytil / Brendan Lemieux / Tony DeAngelo / Chris Kreider / Pavel Buchnevich / Neal Pionk / Boo Nieves / Kevin Shattenkirk / Marc Staal / Jimmy Vesey / Brady Skjei / Jeff Gorton / Connor Brickley