Where Does Vlad Namestnikov Fit in The Rangers Lineup?
The new NHL season is fast approaching. In only a matter of hours, teams will be reporting for training camp following their relaxing summer vacations. While some teams have seen little change to their rosters, the Rangers have been very busy trying to rebuild theirs.
Come opening the night, the Blueshirts will have a variety of new players on the ice. Not just new players, but rookies. And rookies who recently impressed at the Traverse City Tournament at that. One player that may be highly affected by these changes is Vladislav Namestnikov.
Looking at Namestnikov
Namestnikov, who broke out during his time as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, has been somewhat of a disappointment in New York. Last season, he logged a decent amount of minutes on various lines.
But with the arrivals of Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov, he will likely be seeing most of his ice time in the bottom-six. Following Ryan Strome’s strong finish last season and players like Brett Howden and Lias Andersson continuing to grow, logic says that Namestnikov will log a hefty amount of fourth-line minutes.
But, at the same time, Boo Nieves and Greg McKegg will be fighting for spots on the roster. And this doesn’t even include Brendan Lemieux, who just re-entered the equation yesterday by signing a new contract.
That are a lot of players competing for bottom line spots. If Namestnikov struggles at camp, does Rangers management consider benching him? A tough pill to swallow as he is set to make $4 million this season in the final year of his contract.
While I think McKegg is a solid hard-working forward, I don’t expect him to be in the lineup opening night. But Nieves could still make a strong push to crack David Quinn’s 2019-20 roster.
When all is said and done, I do believe Namestnikov will make the team. And furthermore, I think he may log a decent amount of third-line minutes. The reason being that if he can put together a strong bounce-back campaign in his contract year, then the Rangers may actually be able to trade him at the deadline to help reinforce another teams depth. If he starts strong, they could move him sooner and get more cap space.
The Rangers were unable to find a spot for him elsewhere this summer which is likely why they had no choice but to buy out Kevin Shattenkirk for some ugly cap relief. So if they can get anything for him, that would be a smart move.
But in this scenario, another dilemma would arise. How would the coaching staff justify playing a guy like Andersson or Howden on the fourth line logging fewer minutes than the under-performing Namestnikov?
With such a new lineup and some key decisions to make this season, there will be a lot of rotating and shifting within the lines. This is not to say Kaapo Kakko will play on the fourth line, but you may see some other notable players on lower lines as David Quinn tries to find the right balance between competitiveness and player development.
I wouldn’t be completely opposed to seeing Namestnikov on the third line if it is developing his trade value. But with that being said, it would be a horrible mistake to keep players like Howden, Andersson, or even Vitali Kravtsov on the fourth-line for the entire season. The name of the game is ice-time for these young players.
The most realistic outcome is that Namestnikov will spend the majority of the season on the fourth-line. But do not be surprised if he gets bumped up to see if he can attract some suitors at the deadline. I don’t really expect him to be traded, but depth is extremely important to a team in the playoffs.
Of course, this is assuming the Rangers will not make the playoffs. While I don’t think it is out of the question, it is not very likely.
Namestnikov should be a regular in the lineup this season, but he may have some tough competition during training camp. And if he does indeed make the team, he will not be a focal point whatsoever and eventually, his short tenure as a Blueshirt will come to an insignificant end.