Namestnikov already fighting for a roster spot
Namestnikov’s 2018-19 season is off to a rocky start
Vladislav Namestnikov was a healthy scratch for the New York Rangers against the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 6. Head coach David Quinn chose to sit him in favor of playing 34-year old enforcer Cody McLeod. Needless to say, that was quite a fall from grace for a player who is coming off of a career-year in terms of production and is in the first year of a new two-year, $8 million contract.
Quinn said the change is more about McLeod than it is about Namestnikov. He wants McLeod to bring "Just a little more pace and energy. Cody had a good camp, and you want to reward him. So, put him in there, and hopefully he continues to build on what he did in training camp.''— Colin Stephenson (@ColinASteph) October 6, 2018
Namestnikov had 33 points in his first 38 games of the 2017-18 season. So, how does he end up a healthy scratch watching McLeod play over him less than a year later? Last season, the Russian forward scored 39 of his 48 points when he was on the ice with Steven Stamkos last season. That’s right, the main reason why Namestnikov had such a big offensive year was because he was playing with Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov — two of the NHL’s best forwards. While he was with Tampa last year, Namestnikov shooting percentage nearly doubled from the 8.8 percentage he had in 2016-17.
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
If Jeff Gorton and the Rangers thought they were acquiring a 50-point player when they traded for Namestnikov, they were kidding themselves. Prior to last year, Namestnikov’s best season was a 35-point campaign in 2015-16. He was also acquired from a team with the third-best power play in the NHL. Namestnikov had a career-high 15 points on the power play — including eight goals — with Tampa before becoming a Ranger.
After joining the Rangers in the blockbuster trade that sent former captain Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to the Lightning, Namestnikov had two goals and two assists in 19 games to close out the 2017-18 season. It was a disappointing start to his Rangers career. Unfortunately, Namestnikov is also having a lukewarm start to his first full year in New York.
In the preseason Namestnikov averaged 11:45 TOI at 5-on-5 through three games. He finished his preseason with two points and two shots in just over 50 minutes of ice time. If not for the goal he scored (and the goal he tipped past his own goaltender) against the Philadelphia Flyers in the Rangers’ final preseason game, it would have been easy to forget he was on the training camp roster.
In the Rangers’ first game of the season against the Nashville Predators, Namestnikov had the lowest TOI on the roster. He played just 9:07 at 5-on-5 under new head coach David Quinn. He also served the team’s bench minor for a too many men on the ice penalty in the third period. He was on the ice for a 5-on-5 goal against in that game and never started a shift in the offensive zone.
Namestnikov drew back into the lineup as one of the Rangers’ 11 forwards on Oct. 7 in a chaotic 8-5 loss in Carolina. Again, he saw under 10 minutes of ice time (9:30), but was able to pick up a secondary assist on Chris Kreider’s first period goal and register his first point of the season. Interestingly enough, he had the best possession numbers among Rangers forwards in that game, but that might be tied to how little ice time he saw in the second period. Quinn gave him just two shifts in the second period, which is when Carolina began to pull away from the Rangers. Which is why it was surprising to see Quinn give him some shifts after his poor job on the backcheck played a significant role in Lucas Wallmark’s game-tying goal scored 5:01 into the third period.
C L U T C H pic.twitter.com/8O9ZquaxSB— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) October 7, 2018
Before we go any further we need to make it abundantly clear that we’re talking about a two-game sample size for Namestnikov and its just the first three games of an 82-game season, so it’s definitely premature to hit the panic button. But Namestnikov struggling to find his role and identity with the team under Quinn is a storyline we need to keep an eye on moving forward.
“Vladdy and I had a good conversation,” Quinn told Larry Brooks after the home opener. “He’s still fighting his way through it.” Namestnikov has a lot of tough sledding ahead of him if he wants to escape his current role as a fourth line forward.
The former Lightning forward is capable of being a solid middle-six forward, but that is something he needs to prove to his new head coach. Usurping Jimmy Vesey and/or Ryan Spooner on the depth chart will not be an easy task, and Namestnikov is not helping his case by rolling his eyes when he’s asked to serve a too many men on the ice penalty and missing his assignments in the defensive zone.
Namestnikov’s contract isn’t going to hurt the Rangers’ cap situation this year or next, but it could make him difficult to move at this year’s deadline. And that is a big deal. Namestnikov, Spooner, Mats Zuccarello, and Kevin Hayes are the four most likely Rangers forwards who will be dealt this year, and it’s essential that Gorton gets as much as he can for the pieces that he chooses to move. The bottom line here is that Namestnikov’s trade value has done nothing but plummet since he was acquired from Tampa Bay, and as long as he’s watching games from the press box and playing fourth line minutes that isn’t going to change.
Data courtesy NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.hockey, salary information courtesy of CapFriendly.com