New York Rangers center Namestnikov needs to step up
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Frank Curto

Vladislav Namestnikov had a career year last season, but now he needs to perform at the same level as a member of the New York Rangers.

After the promises of rebuilding to the fans and a fire sale at the trade deadline, the New York Rangers had themselves a solid center to help lead the next generation of players. Or did they? Hence the ongoing conversation of who Vladislav Namestnikov really is to the Blueshirts.

Prior to the trade that sent Namestnikov to the Rangers, he appeared in 62 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was fortunate in that he was the center of two of the best players currently playing in the NHL in Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. Stamkos had an 86-point season with Kucherov hitting the century mark. The Rangers newly acquired center had 48 points due to far less playing time.

His numbers were very good as the 25-year-old recorded eight of his 24 goals on the power play with 17 of his 24 assists coming on the man advantage. This is the kind of scoring production the Rangers were looking for as they had their up and downs when they had the man advantage.

When he came over on the last day of the trade deadline, expectations were high for the Russian. He has the speed and the shooting skill to get the puck in the back of the net, yet he seemed to be a different player as compared to his time with the Lightning. The player the Rangers traded for in Tampa was not the same one who skated in 19 games for New York.

Four points were all he was able to record in those 19 games. He had ample ice time, but he didn’t look comfortable. This was not the same player who scored 24 goals prior to the trade.

Of course, there are many reasons why this lack of player skill occurred. Namestnikov was taken back by the trade; he left a team that was talking about making a playoff run with Stanley Cup aspirations to a team that just traded all of its quality players and was going to miss the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. He was playing with two of the top players in the NHL, where he wasn’t expected to be the top scorer or leader of the team.

With New York, everything was flipped. The most traumatic change was the expectation that he could continue to score with the Rangers as he did in Tampa. As is now known, this didn’t happen.

Namestnikov will get a clean slate when this season begins. A new head coach, a better feel for this great city and hopefully a passion to lead the Rangers back to the playoffs. This is what all Blueshirt fans are expecting. The first challenge ahead of him is where the Rangers want him to play.

An overabundance of players at the center position will allow for a competitive training camp. The Rangers will break down their players in camp into three separate teams and Namestnikov will be centering as camp opens. The organization has made it clear that the centers all have a legitimate shot to keep their position. Perhaps more importantly, Namestnikov would have an opportunity to move to wing should the Rangers have no center spot available for him.

If this would improve or hinder his game is yet to be known.

The Rangers are pretty set at the center position, on paper anyway, as the team is looking to go with Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, Lias Andersson, and Filip Chytil. Things can change as camp progresses. The team has some split-squad preseason games, so Namestnikov will get his opportunity to shine. Now that he has time to adjust to coming to New York, expect him to show what he has early in camp and the season.

The Rangers traded for the center knowing what he brings to the rink every game. Last season is over and done with; now is the time to see if the trade was beneficial to the organization. He will have plenty of opportunities to prove himself and if he can reach his potential, the Rangers might have the high scoring forward they have been looking for.

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A graduate of St. John's University class of '91. I have been a fan of the New York Rangers since the days of Peter Puck. Founder of Ranger Proud, the Facebook page that covers all news, notes, pre /post-game stats, and player quotes. I can be reached at