Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer
Don't be fooled by the name Vladislav Namestnikov. He was born in Russia, but also possesses quite a bit of North American flair.
In fact, half his life has been spent in North America, so the phrase "culture shock" never has applied to the 18-year-old forward born in the industrial city of Voskresensk -- the birthplace of current and former NHL players such as Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Valeri Kamensky, Andrei Markov and Valeri Zelepukin.
He tagged along with his dad, Jevgeni, who played eight seasons in North America, including parts of five seasons in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks, New York Islanders and Nashville Predators, and was a big fan of his uncle, Kozlov, who won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and '98.
"When I was 4 years old, my mom and dad put me on skates," Namestnikov told NHL.com. "I grew up watching my dad and uncle and they were a big influence. When I was here, the best advice I was given came from my dad. He told me to keep my head up because it's really physical. I'm used to the little surfaces of ice, and in Russia it's a little different, but I'm accustomed to that, too."
The lessons he learned at a young age have benefitted Namestnikov, who is considered one of the top North American skaters available for the 2011 Entry Draft, which will be held June 24-25 in St. Paul, Minn. He finished No. 11 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters. In 68 games with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, the 5-foot-11 1/2, 170-pound center recorded 30 goals, 68 points, a plus-12 rating and just 49 penalty minutes.
What Namestnikov might lack in size, he compensates for in straight-ahead speed.
"Vlad plays a high-energy, two-way game," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "He's very aggressive on the forecheck and backcheck and has the ability to beat defenders outside and cut back to the net. He has an excellent wrist shot that he can release with accuracy on the rush."
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|2011 NHL ENTRY DRAFT |
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When Namestnikov turned 8, he returned to Russia to hone his skills, playing for his hometown hockey school in Voskresensk while also competing internationally for his country and in senior leagues against men at a young age.
"I played with men as a 16-year-old and got stronger, so when I got over here (North America), I knew what was going on," he said.
At the 2009 World Under-17 Challenge, he had 8 goals and 10 points in five games. He then represented his country at the World Under-18 Championships that year, notching 7 points in seven games. Namestnikov would continue his rapid ascent up the Team Russia ladder playing against men in Russia's second division with Khimik Voskresensk, scoring 11 goals and 17 points in 26 games.
While Namestnikov considers it an honor to be compared to Larionov, he's holding out hope for the day hockey analysts will refer to him as the second coming of Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk. Lofty expectations for sure, but his two-way acumen, speed and smarts on the ice certainly are familiar traits.
"He's Russian but plays a North American-style game," London teammate Scott Harrington, No. 98 on Central Scouting's list, said. "He's good with the puck like most Russians, but he's got some grit to him and doesn't mind throwing the body around. He really competes out there and moves the puck well … qualities that will be very attractive to NHL scouts."
Niagara IceDogs defenseman Dougie Hamilton, Central Scouting's top-rated North American defenseman (No. 4 overall), also has been impressed by Namestnikov.
"We've played against them and he was definitely one of their fastest players," Hamilton said. "You just notice his speed a lot."
While he prefers center, Namestnikov is OK with filling in on the wing when needed. In fact, he admits he can play either side in a pinch and also has had success as a penalty killer.
"I find him most effective at center, but he is versatile enough to play a solid game on the wing," Edwards said. "He's very responsible defensively and is not afraid of getting involved and battling for pucks. He'll take the body and take a hit to make a play." Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at @mike_morreale