The expectations for Vladislav Namestnikov were low this year, but a solid start this season has quieted his haters amongst the New York Rangers faithful.

Dom Renna

Vladislav Namestnikov’s audition in 2017-18 was a disappointing one, to say the least. After coming over in the Ryan McDonagh trade, Namestnikov did not live up to the expectations of his numbers in Tampa Bay.

All of the talk surrounding the former 27th overall pick was how he was just a product of playing on a line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. A player who took advantage of playing with some of the best players the game of hockey has to over helping him to 20 goals and 24 assists at the trade deadline. After the trade, he would only score four points in 19 games with the Blueshirts leaving his future on Broadway in question.

Now enter 2018-19. The 26-year-old signed a two-year contract during the summer with a surprising $4 million annual-average-salary. A deal that left some questioning where he would fit with the Rangers having a logjam at the center ice position. Well, it has become obvious that Namestnikov can be a part of this team’s plans moving forward thanks to a solid start to the young season.

In looking at the type of player Namestnikov looks to be when not playing with elite talent, you still have a legitimate top-nine forward for a team ready to contend. His all-around game is much better than what many thought it would be at the time of his acquisition and he has proved just that to start the young season.

He is a very involved player who has not been afraid to use the body this year, something which was missing from his game a season ago. On the season, he’s already at 32 hits on the season, averaging 1.3 hits per game. But, using the body does not only mean hits, it is so much more nowadays. He has not been afraid to use his body to block shots when it matters most with 16, most of which have come on the penalty kill.

It does not just have to stop there when it comes to Namestnikov’s production. He has slowly started to pick it up offensively while seeing more time in the Rangers top-six. Of his nine points this year, eight of them have come in the Blueshirts’ last 15 games. In that span, the team has gone 10-4-1, the second-best record in that time frame.

This type of production from Namestnikov is not just coming out of nowhere. His numbers show he his capable of putting up some offense, just not at the same clip he was doing so a season ago playing with the best the game has to offer. Look no further than his first 80 game season in the NHL back in 2015-16 when he wasn’t playing with Stamkos or Kucherov.

On Nov. 27, 2015, Namestnikov recorded nine points just like he has now, in 2016-17 he had 10 points come Nov. 27. He finished 2015-16 with 35 points and 2016-17 with 28. If that trend continues, the Rangers would be more than happy with the type of production considering they were unsure of which type of player they would be getting this year.

But what exactly has changed for Namestnikov? Could it be as simple as the change of coaches? Going from a coach in Alain Vigneault who primarily used in a bottom six role to a coach in David Quinn who has used him in his top-six since Oct. 28 definitely has something to do with it. Players who are used to going from seeing top-line minutes to bottom-line minutes need time to adjust, that along with the worry of being a healthy scratch under Vigneault had to have some kind of impact on Namestnikov’s game.

It could also be something as simple as just him finally feeling comfortable on the big stage. It is never easy for a player getting traded midseason, especially from a market like Tampa Bay to a market like New York where everything you do on the ice is criticized. Not to mention, he was a pending restricted-free-agent at the time and the uncertainty of his future could have also played in a factor in his poor play. Now he seems to be comfortable on the Garden ice along with a sense of security, he is playing some his best hockey since putting on a blue sweater.

As the season progresses, so will the offense for number 90. He has shown that he is committed and is putting in the work otherwise, he would not be seeing the time on the top line. One thing is for sure though, he is much more than the player we saw a year ago.

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Dominick is a graduate of Canisius College. He has covered the Rangers for the last seven seasons and the Yankees for the last four.