After last season’s disappointing results, Steve Yzerman and the Wings’ brass needed to have a busy off-season. A flurry of signings and releases has meant the Detroit Red Wings’ roster is going to have a different look this upcoming season. Every hockey player has a past, present and, most importantly for Wings’ fans, future. Although the future is impossible to predict, markers in a player’s past can indicate a projected path. Let’s examine some of those clues.
There are fans that truly value a player’s hockey pedigree and others that dismiss its worth. The former love the likes of Vladislav Namestnikov. Russian born and Michigan raised, Vladislav Namestnikov’s comes by his talent honestly: his father, Evegeny played for the Vancouver Canucks, his Uncle – Ivan Novoseltsev played over five seasons in the NHL and, most remarkably, his Uncle, Vyacheslav Kozlov was a member of the infamous ‘Russian Five’ and played over 700 games donning the ‘Winged Wheel’ in Detroit. It should come as no surprise that Yzerman seized the opportunity to bring in this young, talented forward, who was drafted 27th overall for Tampa Bay in the 2011 NHL draft on a two-year $4 million dollar deal. Namestnikov tallied 53 goals in his five seasons with the Lightning before being traded to the New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators and the Colorado Avalanche. Three teams in three seasons should raise concerns about the Russian’s potential impact in Detroit, but Yzerman will be hoping a change of scenery will re-spark the production of the 2015-16 to 2017-18 seasons, where Namestnikov averaged 35 points a season. The Wings finished last season with an abysmal average of 2.00 GF/G (Goals-For per Game) – the worst in the NHL – so Yzerman must be hoping that the young Russian can find his scoring touch where he grew up. The Wings need to increase their offensive production and the Russian’s resume suggests that he has the potential to help Detroit move out of the league’s scoring basement.
In the upcoming season, Coach Blashill will have options of where to slot Namestnikov in the lineup. The Russian has played both center and winger in his career and, given the depth of the Wings’ roster, he could land a second-line, center role on opening day. However, after resigning the scrappy Canadian to a two-year extension, Yzerman has suggested that he would prefer to see Robby Fabbri play games at center this year. If Fabbri is given a bump up in the depth chart, Wings fans could see a second line of Namestnikov -Fabbri-Zadina backing up their high-powered first line. NHL fans are anticipating a shortened season, which will mean a shortened training camp and stress the importance of immediately establishing chemistry, needed for them to remain competitive. A shortened season will also force Blashill to tinker with his lineup to start the season. The Russian forward often opts to pass rather than shoot, averaging only 1.51 shots per game. This means Blashill will need to consider whether to pair him with shooters on his wings or let him play setup-man for a high-shooting centerman. While the Wings are still openly in their rebuild, Namestnikov could provide that needed second line spark that Valterri Filppula was unable to offer last season.
Steve Yzerman made several team-friendly signings this offseason, adding complimentary pieces to facilitate the rebuild process. Namestnikov will be 28 years-old when the 2020-21 season starts, which means his future in ‘Hockeytown’ will be determined by his performance. The looming Seattle expansion draft also means that, if Namestnikov wants to avoid playing for his 4th team in 4 seasons, he will need to produce on-the-ice. While his hockey pedigree will buy Namestnikov leeway with Wings’ fans, it will only take him so far and won’t last forever. Rebuild or not, Wings’ fans want to get back to their winning ways and re-establish their playoff streak. Namestnikov’s signing may not propel them to the top of the Atlantic division but it’s a signing that comes with minimal risk. Should the Russian fail to live up to the expectations of Yzerman and Blashill, he can be shopped at the trade deadline or made available in the expansion draft. This would mean an increase in playing time for prospects, such as Joe Veleno and Michael Rasmussen. Given how Jonatan Berggren is currently lighting up the SHL, these prospects could also reap the benefits of a slow-start from Namestnikov.