Namesnikov Sent to Syracuse

The Tampa Bay Lightning announced today that the club reassigned forward Vladislav Namestnikov to the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League.

Namestnikov, 22, has skated in 23 games with the Lightning this season, posting three goals and seven points to go along with four penalty minutes. He recorded his first career NHL goal and assist on October 13 against the Montreal Canadiens. The 6-foot, 182-pound forward has played in 27 career NHL games, all with the Lightning over the past two seasons.

A native of Zhukovskiy, Russia, he has appeared in 100 career AHL games, all with the Crunch, registering 26 goals and 69 points. Last season he set AHL career high totals for games played (56), goals (19), assists (29), points (48) and penalty minutes (40).

BP Commentary: Finally.

No, not that Vladdy was deserving of a demotion; he wasn’t. He earned a spot in preseason and was even told to move from a hotel into an apartment. Everything looked great, but then the reality of a two-scratch forward rotation set in that could only give about 10 minutes two out of every three games to young, developing players such as Jonathan Drouin, Cedric Paquette, JT Brown, and Namestinkov.

The transaction solves a variety of challenges facing the organization. First, Drouin will likely remain with the Lightning instead of playing for Team Canada in the World Junior tournament. It doesn’t make as much sense for him to go if he's not being a healthy scratch every third or fourth game, and playing limited, slow developing minutes when he did get on the ice. Drouin will see more ice time and more consistent ice time on the power play, which should result in adapting to NHL speed quicker.

Second, Namestnkov is a two-way center who can consistently produce points. He wasn’t doing that playing fourth line minutes in Tampa, and like many prospects before him (like James Wright years ago and Connolly more recently) was at risk of falling into a different player type while losing his offensive mindset. It took Connolly, who played sparingly as a junior-eligible NHL rookie, the better part of two seasons to get back where he was as a scoring line prospect coming out of Prince George.

Third, Vladdy immediately becomes Syracuse’s first line center and adds what they desperately needed – a scoring center. The Crunch have been getting by with checker Mike Angelidis, rookie Cody Kunyk, and developing 2-way center Tanner Richard at center. Skill was lacking where it is needed most. The Crunch/Lightning came into the year thinking one of Paquette and Namestnikov were going to be centering Syracuse’s first line. Then Paquette went and improved so much so quickly he earned a spot in Tampa. Of note: Syracuse Coach Rob Zettler watched the Tampa Bay-Buffalo game on Tuesday with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. Do you think he made his wishes known?

Fourth, Paquette’s future is not as a scoring liner – it’s as a bottom line agitator who brings energy and can produce points from time to time. Paquette make the Lightning harder to play against in a fourth line role than Vladdy did or does. Vladdy’s future is on the second or third lines; Paquette’s is on the third or fourth. He can start that now.

Fifth, Yzerman gets back to his developmental priorities for prospects – patience and ice time. Vladdy is ready for the NHL, but there’s no need to keep him there if he’s not playing. Drouin isn’t doing anything to help himself as a player by serving popcorn once a week. Minutes rule all in development land. Patience is once again being shown.

A rotation of one healthy scratch among the forwards will continue in Tampa, but it’s likely to be between Brendan Morrow – who will need games off now to be effective in a playoff run later – and JT Brown. The latter is still developing, yes, but is playing in his presumed role of bottom-6 energy/speed player and penalty killer. While he was a fine scorer at Minnesota-Duluth, his future is not as a 30-goal scoring liner. He’s Ryan Callahan Lite. He already knows his role and excels in it. His learning curve isn’t near as steep as the scoring liners, Drouin and Namestnikov.

In conclusion, this is just good asset management. It’s also a great problem to have – too many young players ready for bigger NHL roles. There was a time not too long ago when the Lightning would have begged to be stricken with this “problem.”