Once the NHL-ready throw in for the Rangers when they traded Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to the Lightning to begin their rebuild, Vladislav Namestnikov is on the move once again to the Ottawa Senators. With the Rangers going with a younger approach with their forwards and wanting guys like Brett Howden and Lias Andersson to develop at the center position, they decided to eventually move on from Namestnikov. At 26 years old now in the league for 7 years, it makes a lot of sense, especially since he only had one season of 20 goals and none of 30 assists. Even though he used to be a very high end prospect when he first came up, the Rangers have to rebuild for now, and aren’t the team that should attempt to rebirth him, so as a result, I like the trade for many reasons.
The first reason is I think it will help the development of Lias Andersson for many reasons. David Quinn has always been a coach that has done well experimenting with his young players and not just burying them on the 4th line like Alain Vigneault tended to do. So while Andersson is currently on the 4th line right now, I expect Namestnikov’s departure to help him get more ice time, and for a guy who has decent all-around skills, especially as a passer, I think more ice time could help him both statistically and skill wise playing with and against the best of the best. Andersson is a first round pick (#7 overall) with highly touted offensive skills. Watching him so far, he is especially good at passing awareness and instincts, which is impressive in a young player. He has also been good defensively taking away passing and shooting lanes, and doesn’t have a bad shot either. While Quinn so far this year has played him on the 4th line in the first two games, I expect that to change, whether it is progressively moving up towards the Top 6 or a game-to-game approach, and especially if he plays with somebody as dynamic as Kappo Kakko or even a top offensive player like Artemi Panarin on the first line, his numbers can definitely go up. Namestnikov in that same position throughout his early career with the Lightning had been in a stalemate throughout his entire career despite the high potential, and he was even getting chances to play with guys like Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, and still wasn’t blossoming like he should, and eventually got bumped down to the bottom 6 pretty much for good. He’s been steadily in that position and will be for the rest of his career, while Andersson still has room to grow.
Secondly, I like the defenseman prospect they got from the Senators. At 6’1″ and 205 pounds, Nick Ebert has the size and good skating ability for his size to become a good defenseman in the NHL. Looking at minor league numbers, he has had 4 different seasons with double-digit goals and two different 30 assist seasons at the OHL level with the Windsor Spitfires. He has also done well as a second and third pairing defenseman in both Russian and Swedish professional leagues, especially last season. For Sweden’s Orebko HK, Ebert totaled 11 goals and 22 assists in 49 games, and played solid defense as well. With his size, he should be able to hit at the NHL level at least somewhat, with the league shifting to a more speed-oriented game. With good speed for his size, I don’t think Ebert would have a problem keeping up with forwards in most circumstances either. Lastly, he is already at the AHL Level, having played with both the Texas Stars and the Belleville Senators the last few years, so he’s not far off from being NHL ready. Whether he makes the leap over young Rangers defensemen Adam Fox and K’Andre Miller is another question, but at the same time, it’s not like the Rangers are getting a prospect that is 19 and very raw either. Plus, if he develops well, he may be able to see time at the NHL level later in the season if they are able to somehow, in miraculous circumstances, move the bad contracts of Marc Staal and Brendan Smith. The Rangers have committed to rebuilding on defense lately after rebuilding the offense in 2015-17, and this is another piece that could help.
Lastly, I don’t think Namestnikov is the kind of player this team needs. As I mentioned above, somebody rebuilding like the Rangers is not a team that should gamble on a failed top prospect like Namestnikov. This is a guy that has had plenty of chances since his debut in 2013-14. He underwhelmed in a 2014-15 season where the Tampa Bay Lightning had one of the most potent offense in the NHL and only had 7 assists, despite playing in just 43 games that year. However, in what was his first full season, he racked up just 14 goals and 21 assists playing mostly on the third line. In most circumstances, those aren’t bad third line numbers by any stretch. However, with the offensive depth that the Lightning had in those years, you would like those numbers to be slightly improved to really show development. It finally showed some progression when he had 20 goals and 24 assists, including 8 power play goals and 15 power play points in the 2017-18 season, before getting traded to the Rangers later that year in the Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller trade. However, his regression to 11 goals and 20 assists and very inconsistent play showed the 2017-18 numbers were more of a result of the team he was playing for than him finally boosting. Also, for a promising center, his faceoff percentage was never higher than 47.29% in that aforementioned 2017-18 season. Defensively, he was never great on either team either, which doesn’t help if your offensive numbers are inconsistent, and like I said above, the rebuilding Rangers aren’t a team that can afford to gamble that he can bloom late like the prospect he was supposed to be.
Again, I’m not even saying it’s hopeless that he can blossom into that top end prospect, because all sports have their late bloomers that flourish later on, and I’m not even doubting the Rangers coaching staff or talent to be able to help him get there. However, in the rebuilding circumstance the Rangers are in, with a good amount of young offensive talent in Pavel Buchnevich, Lias Andersson, Vitali Kratvsov, and Kappo Kakko, as well as more established veterans in Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, and Mika Zibenajad, the Rangers are pretty established offensively with more to come in their farm system. Defense is where they need to continue to focus, and while Nick Ebert isn’t the flashy prospect that somebody like Adam Fox or K’Andre Miller is, depth is key especially with the offensive depth growing across the league. Add in a 2021 4th round pick and giving David Quinn the chance to give more young guys with more potential that Namestnikov does more ice time, you’re looking at a trade that is effective in more ways than one.
Kyle Kloiber, @2Kgmenrule1080 on Twitter
Vladislav Namestnikov- Jess Starr, The Hockey Writers
Lias Andersson- Noah K. Murray, USA Today Sports
Nick Ebert- Johan Bernstrom, Bildbyran