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X-Factor Namestnikov sticking with Lightning

by Corey Long /

TAMPA -- After spending the first third of the season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, it appeared Vladislav Namestnikov would be going through the postseason with the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League.

The 22-year-old forward was recalled again March 4, and he's made it hard for coach Jon Cooper to keep him out of the lineup.

Namestnikov, the No. 27 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, has established a role on the team that gives Cooper plenty of flexibility. He has the scoring touch to play on one of the top two lines if needed but possesses the grit and toughness that make him a good fit on the third line with Cedric Paquette or the fourth line next to Brian Boyle.

He's shown the skill set to be used on either special teams unit and he has three game-winning goals, showing he isn't afraid to make a play with the game on the line.

"[Namestnikov] has shown that he has the ability to play here and he's made it really hard for me to pull him out of the lineup right now," Cooper said. "As we approach the playoffs you want to have a relatively healthy team and play the guys that give you the best chance to win. He's one of those guys."

Although Namestnikov has mainly been used in a more defensive role since his return, he has scored six goals and had a three-point game (two goals) March 30 against the Montreal Canadiens, two days after Cooper said he was going to keep him on the main roster.

"It felt good to stay here and be able to immediately contribute and help the team win some big games," Namestnikov said. "My goal is the same when I'm here. I want to play every shift hard and do what I can to help the team win. If I have opportunities to do that in the postseason that will be very exciting."

Namestnikov will not be confused with Steven Stamkos or Tyler Johnson when it comes to his offensive playmaking, but he will be in the right place on the ice when he is needed.

That's what Cooper will be banking on.

"Namestnikov has shown he can play physical and he makes plays without the puck," Cooper said. "He'll go into the dirty areas and battle along the boards. You need guys like him to win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs."

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