'It was a priority': Signing with Red Wings a homecoming for Vladislav Namestnikov
Detroit — The Red Wings added to their weekend haul of free-agent signings Sunday with another local touch.
Forward Vladislav Namestnikov signed a two-year contract worth $4 million ($2 million salary cap hit).
Namestnikov, 27, is the nephew of former Red Wing Slava Kozlov, is represented by local agent Dan Milstein, and lives in Commerce Township. He also lived in the area as a youth.
"Detroit was always on the top of my list," Namestnikov said. "It's kind of awesome it happened and I'm beyond grateful. Hopefully we can start here soon and get it going. It was a priority to be here. I'm from here. It really wasn't a hard decision when it came down to it."
In many ways, this was like coming home for Namestnikov. He also talked about hanging around the Wings' locker room at Joe Louis Arena when Kozlov played, and meeting current general manager Steve Yzerman — at a park in Birmingham.
"My aunt was with me, and Steve was with his daughters. That's my memory of first meeting him, in a park in Birmingham," Namestnikov said. "I have flashbacks of going into the locker room, I had hockey cards and I went around and had guys sign my hockey cards.
"I have a bunch of cards somewhere. We moved from Waterford to here and I know they're somewhere. I know I have them for sure.
"It does (feel like coming home). It still doesn't feel real, but in a way it does feel like coming home. This is our summer home for many years and I grew up here, so it definitely feels like coming home, and like I said, I'm beyond excited."
Namestnikov figures he was about 4 years old when his family moved to the Detroit area, and was 9 when they left for Russia, given his father Evgeny (43 NHL games from 1993-2000) returned to Russia to play professionally.
"I played minor hockey for the Troy Sting and Rochester Rattlers," Namestnikov said. "We came back when I was 17 to play in London (OHL junior hockey) and have been here every summer since."
Namestnikov contacted Kozlov, who is now coaching in Russia, to give him the news of joining the Red Wings.
"He's extremely happy," Namestnikov said. "He's over in Russia now, and there's a bit of a time difference. He's excited. He played here for a long time and it was his home. I'm sure he's proud."
Namestnikov (6 feet, 183 pounds) was drafted in the first round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by Yzerman in Tampa Bay, when Yzerman managed the Lightning.
"I've known him for al long time; he drafted me," Namestnikov said. "It definitely helps when you're familiar with the GM. That definitely came into play when I made my decision, and I'm happy it worked out here and I was able to sign with Detroit."
With the New York Rangers, Ottawa and Colorado last season, Namestnikov had 17 goals and 14 assists in 65 games. Namestnikov had five points (four goals, one assist) in 12 playoff games with the Avalanche.
"It was definitely a hard year," Namestnikov said. "Traded twice. I didn't feel part of a team, I guess. But it's nice that signed a two-year (contract), and hopefully I can build off that and stay here for a long time and find a home.
"It wasn't hard (last season) in terms of point production, but it was just hard going around three teams last year."
Namestnikov isn't fazed by the fact the Red Wings are rebuilding and coming off a difficult season that included the NHL's worst record.
"I understand the situation, but I want to be part of the rebuild, want to be part of the Red Wings, and go forward," Namestnikov said. "I'm going to come in and have a good summer here and try to come in and help the team as much as possible and go from there."
Namestinikov has skated every summer with many of these current Red Wings, and feels the adjustment to a new roster shouldn't be difficult.
"I've skated the past 10 years (with many Wings), so it should be a pretty easy adjustment," Namestnikov said. "I skated every summer with the guys, so I'm familiar with all the players here."
It's been a busy weekend for Yzerman, who has restocked the Red Wings roster with numerous veteran free agents, mostly on short-term, no-risk deals.
Namestnikov joins goaltender Thomas Greiss, defensemen Jon Merrill (Grand Blanc/Michigan) and Troy Stecher, and forward Bobby Ryan — as well as defenseman Marc Staal, who was acquired in a trade earlier in the month.