Namestnikov is a ray of sunshine in a downpour
Russian’s play a rare bright spot for Jets
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If the Winnipeg Jets have been the model of inconsistency over the last month – and they certainly have been, with just six wins over 14 games in March – then forward Vladislav Namestnikov has been among the few exceptions.
Acquired in a trade with the San Jose Sharks on deadline day, Namestnikov has proven to be a bright spot in a cloudy stretch for the local NHL club. The 30-year-old came highly recommended by Jets head coach Rick Bowness, who was with Namestnikov as he broke into the league, spending parts of five seasons (2013-18) together as an assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The two were also together in Dallas for a brief playoff run in 2022.
Now that Namestnikov has settled into his new hockey home, Bowness continues to be impressed with what he’s seeing.
“He’s got a (high) hockey IQ. He sees the game, he understands the game, he knows where he’s supposed to be, he can read the play, he’s got high skill, and he’s got a ton of confidence with the puck,” said the Jets coach. “He hangs onto it. He lets plays develop. When he gets the puck, he’s not forcing it. He lets the open ice develop, buys the guy time to get into that position, then he’ll make the play. He had a great couple looks last game in San Jose, walking through the slot, and didn’t score. Also, he’s a great teammate, he’s a really good person.”
Among Namestnikov’s greatest traits is his versatility.
In the 13 games he’s played for the Jets – a run that’s seen the Russia-born forward chip in two goals and four assists – he’s played everything from wing on the fourth line to centring the second line. He’s even spent time on the power play, with one of his goals coming on the man-advantage.
Despite having seemingly different line mates every night, Namestnikov hasn’t wavered in his energy and execution. When Bowness has needed a line to get going, he’s often leaned on Namestnikov to be the guy to bring that consistent play.
“So, tonight you’re playing third line left wing — OK. Tonight, you’re playing second line centre – OK. Tonight, you’re fourth line right winger — OK,” started Bowness. “Nothing bothers him. He’s a great person and a great teammate, and it’s his versatility that is what we’re all seeing.”
Namestnikov should be considered a breath of fresh air compared to some of his teammates. While Bowness has talked about some of his other players voicing who they want to play with, Namestnikov is about as low maintenance as it gets.
As for being able to adapt to various positions on the ice and places on the depth chart, Namestnikov said he first understood the importance of being versatile in the NHL after he was traded to the New York Rangers midway through the 2017-18 season. He entered the league as a centreman but was put on the wing with the Rangers, a position he had little experience playing.
“I realized, OK, I need to learn different aspects of the game to stay in the league and to be productive,” Namestnikov told the Free Press. “My mindset doesn’t change. I still have to be that two-way player, responsible in my end and go from there into the offensive zone. In my mind, nothing really changes. Maybe different guys play different styles, but I stick to the same way.” It’s that two-way game and consistency each game that has endeared Namestnikov to his teammates. It’s easy like someone who brings a workmanlike attitude every day and who leads by example.
“He’s a great human being. He’s a great teammate. He does a lot of good things really well, a lot of small details that get unnoticed through maybe the general public that us players notice a lot,” Jets forward Kyle Connor said. “He’s got the skill to play up with anybody in this lineup. And he plays a hard-nosed game, as well. He’s not afraid to get in there. He’s blocked a couple of great shots. He’s obviously been on some winning programs, that team in Tampa. So, he knows what it takes. And he’s been in the league for a bit, so he’s got some veteran leadership, some quiet leadership. He’s been a great addition.”
Namestnikov has certainly bounced around in recent years. After spending those years in Tampa Bay, he’s played on seven different teams in the last seven years, including stints in New York, Ottawa, Colorado, Detroit, Dallas, Tampa Bay for a second stint and now Winnipeg.
Tampa Bay had traded him to the Sharks, who quickly dealt Namestnikov to Winnipeg. It was the third time he had been traded at the deadline.
Despite a turn in the wrong direction since his arrival in Winnipeg, Namestnikov said he loved being a member of the Jets. He didn’t want to talk about the future, at least not with the Jets currently fighting for a playoff spot, but he gave the feeling he might be interested in re-signing.
He said he enjoys Bowness’s no-nonsense approach, including his honesty. And he believes the coaching staff and his teammates are destined for the playoffs, they just need to get over their current hump.
“This is a good team,” he said. “They were in first place for a reason (for much of the year) and we’re sliding a bit now but deep down we know we’re a good group, with lots of experience on this team. We’re going to find a way out and make playoffs.”
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
Updated on Monday, April 3, 2023 1:26 PM CDT: Minor copy editing changes