Perhaps it was visible only to the trained eyes of such seasoned hockey veterans as Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman or the team’s player development coordinator Steve Thomas, but Vladislav Namestnikov arrived at the Lightning’s 2012 Development Camp earlier this month with a little something extra included in his hockey repertoire.
“Confidence,” Thomas said. “That’s the difference in him between this year’s camp and last year.”
It was a keen observation, considering that other than translating on behalf of fellow Russian Andrei Vasilevskiy, Namestnikov had pretty much kept a low profile.
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But it was also an accurate assessment as well, for Namestnikov displayed better poise with the puck, showed improved speed, exhibited better awareness in his own defensive end, and appeared to play a more physical style that wasn’t immediately obvious a year ago when he attended camp for the first time just several weeks after being selected with the 27th overall pick at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
And, there’s more.
Namestnikov is a two-time champion of the camp’s popular 3-on-3 Tournament, which for the Lightning, hopefully bodes well as a sign of good things to come from the 19-year-old native of Voskresensk, Russia.
“It was fun to win it again this year,” Namestnikov said. “I don’t think anyone has ever won it two years in a row, so it’s pretty cool.”
More to the point, the trophy served as a testament to not only his improved play at both ends of the rink, but just as much to his mentorship skills off the ice, which came as a result of an increased comfort level elicited through being just one of 10 returning players in camp from the previous year in 2011.
Vladislav executes a drill under the coaching of Jon Cooper during the Lightning's Summer 2012 Development Camp.
“Generally, for the kids who were just drafted and come in, it’s an intimidating atmosphere for them,” Yzerman said. “But you look at Namestnikov this year, and you can tell he’s much more comfortable and much more assertive.”
So much so, that this past season he recorded 22 goals and 71 points in 63 regular season games, as well as four goals and 18 points in 19 playoff games as he helped lead the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League to a berth in the Memorial Cup, which he called a “valuable” experience.
Now, with his Lightning Development Camp experience behind him, Namestnikov said he is committed to getting bigger, stronger, and continuing his two-way play so that he can “fulfill a dream of playing in the NHL.”
And one doesn’t need to have neither Yzerman’s nor Thomas’ set of eyes in order to see that.