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Namestnikov making fresh start with rebuilding Rangers

25-year-old forward acquired in deadline trade eager 'to work hard and earn my spot'

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. -- Vladislav Namestnikov hasn't spoken yet to the New York Rangers' new coach, David Quinn. He doesn't know if he will play center or wing, doesn't know where he will live and doesn't seem concerned.

 

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"It's a fresh start for everyone," Namestnikov said. "You have to earn your ice time. I just have to work hard and earn my spot."

Namestnikov will be making his second fresh start in a matter of months when training camp opens in September.

He woke up from a nap in his Tampa condo on Feb. 26 expecting to play for the Tampa Bay Lightning against the Toronto Maple Leafs that night. The NHL Trade Deadline had passed at 3 p.m. ET. He turned on the television and heard the Lightning had made a trade with the Rangers, but the report didn't name the players. If he were involved, he'd have known, right?

Then he received a phone call from Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman.

Video: CAR@NYR: Namestnikov pots PPG on nice redirection

Defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller were headed to the Lightning, who were going for the Stanley Cup. Namestnikov, prospects Brett Howden and Libor Hajek, and a first-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft were headed to the Rangers, who were rebuilding.

Namestnikov flew across the continent to Vancouver the next day, then played for the Rangers against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena the day after that. He scored in a 6-5 overtime win, stripping center Henrik Sedin inside the New York blue line, breaking away and beating goaltender Anders Nilsson five-hole.

"It happened kind of quick," Namestnikov said. "I met the guys, and we had a game that night. I didn't really have much time to practice or anything with them. I just kind of hopped on the ice, and there you go. You just have to go out there and perform."

He finished with a goal and an assist against Vancouver, then had two points (one goal, one assist) in the final 18 games of the season. The Rangers missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs, fired coach Alain Vigneault on April 7 and hired Quinn on May 23.

But Namestnikov was 25, had been traded for the first time in his NHL career, and had to adjust to a new team and a new town. Not just any new town, either. The Rangers put him in an apartment in New York. He mentioned the traffic, how people rushed everywhere.

"Everything was new for me, going from not such a big city like Tampa to New York," he said. "It was a little bit different, but I enjoyed every second of it. It's something new for me. I'm excited about next year."

Overall, Namestnikov had his best NHL season in 2017-18, setting highs for goals (22), assists (26), points (48) and average ice time (17:05). He signed a two-year contract with the Rangers on July 1. The restricted free agent said he never thought about playing in the Kontinental Hockey League.

"I chose to come over here," he said. "I wanted to play in the NHL. I didn't even look at any other options."

Video: NYR@VAN: Namestnikov scores in Rangers debut

Namestnikov was born in Zhukovsky, Russia, but moved to North America when he was 8 months old; his father, Evgeny Namestnikov, was beginning a stretch that saw him play 43 NHL games from 1993-94 through 1999-2000. The family settled in the Detroit area when he was 4 or 5. Uncle Slava Kozlov was a forward with the Detroit Red Wings then.

After living in Russia from age 9 to 17, Namestnikov returned to North America and played for London of the Ontario Hockey League. The Lightning selected him No. 27 in the 2011 NHL Draft.

He now lives and trains in suburban Detroit in the offseason, skating twice a week in the Eastside Elite Hockey League, organized by Anaheim Ducks defenseman Steve Oleksy. He'll head to New York, find a place and report to camp in a few weeks.

"I usually use summers to gain strength and get faster," Namestnikov said at the Eastside Elite All-Star Classic on Thursday. "Now with this league, you kind of get more onto the ice and work on stuff on the ice. …

"I think it's been a long, productive summer so far. Just got to keep it up."

Notice that word? Long?

Asked for the hardest part about the end of last season, Namestnikov did not mention his adjustments or statistical slump. He said this: "Probably not making playoffs. We're in a rebuild mode right now, so [we have] lots of young guys, but when the season ends that early, it's kind of hard. But we have a good group of guys, and I think next year will be different."

Asked about taking the next step, he didn't mention goals or points. He said this: "I play hockey to win. The Stanley Cup is the main objective. So hopefully one day I'll get there."

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