DETROIT -- When the Detroit Red Wings were holding on to a lead during the 2020-21 season, one of the players who coach Jeff Blashill trusted to be on the ice to help keep that lead was forward Vladislav Namestnikov.
With five empty-net goals on the season, Namestnikov was often in the right place at the right time to help clinch victories for the Red Wings.
Beyond his importance to the team late in games, the forward's versatility and all-around ability helped him earn the role the coaching staff entrusted him with last season.
"He's a first-rounder for a reason," Blashill said in February. "He's got a good offensive game, but what he's done is learned how to be a good defensive player. That's kept him in a spot where he's going to earn a lot of minutes because of that. He's a useful player in a lot of different situations."
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Namestnikov signed a two-year free-agent contract with the Red Wings on Oct. 11, 2020 after playing for the New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche during the 2019-20 season.
It was a homecoming for the forward who grew up in Michigan and whose uncle, Slava Kozlov, was drafted by Detroit and was part of the 1997 and 1998 Stanley Cup championship teams.
"It still doesn't feel real, but in a way, it does feel like coming home," Namestnikov said after signing with Detroit. "This is my summer home for many years, and I grew up here, so it definitely feels like it's coming home."
One of the highlights for Namestnikov last season was his play against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He skated in all eight games against the Lightning, picking up two goals, four assists and finishing plus-7 against the team that drafted him 27th overall in 2011.
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Namestnikov's ability to move around the lineup, as both a winger and a center, was a bonus for the Red Wings as injuries to different players throughout the season forced Detroit's coaching staff to make adjustments on the fly.
"I grew up playing center my whole career. As I got into the league, I was a centerman and I kind of moved to the wing," Namestnikov said. "But as I've said before, I'm more than happy to play in any position the coach sees me in, and I'll try my best in any situation."
The forward finished the season tied for fourth on the team in goals (eight), assists (nine) and he played in 53 of 56 games, which was second-most among Red Wings forwards.
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As one of the few forwards on the roster older than 28 years of age -- Sam Gagner (32) is the only forward older than Namestnikov -- his experience will be valued for a team moving forward in its rebuild with an emphasis on young players growing into their skillset.
"There's different ways to contribute in a game," Namestnikov said in March. "Defense is a very important part of the game, and if (the puck) is not going in, you can focus more on the 'D' side. That's how I've went about it over my career."