Move to center spurs Vladislav Namestnikov's goal-scoring surge for Red Wings
Detroit — It's never easy to come to a new hockey team, but it's even more difficult when the goals and assists don't happen right away.
Vladislav Namestnikov was a forward the Red Wings felt could help in a variety of ways when they signed him as a free agent last summer, one of which was strengthen the offensive attack.
But Namestnikov didn't earn a point through his first six games, and only had one goal through 11 games.
It was around that time that coach Jeff Blashill began using Namestnikov at center, though, rather than the wing.
And since that point, as he's gotten reacclimated to his natural position, Namestnikov has three goals in the last six games — the latest, a goal Monday in the 3-2 overtime loss to Chicago.
"You gain confidence and things kind of ease up," Namestnikov said of the goal-scoring surge. "You just have to play the right way and things will come for you."
When Blashill shifted Namestnikov to center, injuries and the COVID-19 protocol had cut into the position's depth. Namestnikov hadn't played a ton of center during training camp and early in the season.
But the move has worked, and Blashill — a fan of Namestnikov's, regardless of where in the lineup — has liked what Namestnikov has brought up the middle of the ice.
"I like him at center; he seems to be more dynamic as a center, and he's shown more quickness and speed at center than he did on the wing," Blashill said. "He supports the puck and defends pretty well and he's shown pretty good speed."
Namestnikov was a 2011 first-round pick by general manager Steve Yzerman when Yzerman was in Tampa Bay, and Namestnikov has shown first-round offensive talent at times during his career. He's scored as many as 22 goals in a season, and last season had 17 goals while playing for three teams.
But it's Namestnikov's versatility and ability to check and neutralize opponents that has added to his value around the league.
"He's a first-rounder for a reason," Blashill said. "He's a good offensive game, but what he's done is learned how to be a good defensive player, and 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. He cares a ton. I like Vlade, and he's played better of late, and part of that is because he's at the center position."
Namestnikov is comfortable at any of the forward positions, but admits center is the easiest to transition to, for him.
"I grew up playing center, my whole career, and as I got into the league I was a centerman," Namestnikov said. "I kind of moved to the wings, but as I've said before, I'm more than happy to play in any position the coach needs me in.
"As a center, there's more room for you to sate. It's more responsibility, and I like that. But the major thing is, there's a lot more room and you can help in any situation on the ice."
One positive for the Wings during this season has been the feeling they aren't out of any game.
On Monday, they rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game, and at least get a point in the standings.
Last season, falling behind early would have been a nearly impossible climb.
"There's no quit in this team," Namestnikov said. "We're down 2-0 and we battled back and overall, we played a real good games. There's no quit, and that's a real good thing for a team."
There are a number of factors, Blashill said, as to why the Wings have been better equipped to rally this season.
"One is getting the big save to keep you in it," Blashill said. "Timely scoring keeps you afloat. But I just think part of that, too, is we're playing better hockey. When you're down 2-0 and you give up the third goal, it's way harder. But if you're playing good hockey, the chances of giving up that third goal is way less.
"There's a mental fortitude that's been real good, and part of that is maturation of guys who were with us last year and some of the new faces are pretty calm and are able to keep their head above water when things aren't going great."
Blashill said Tyler Bertuzzi (upper body) did not skate Tuesday and isn't likely to be available to play for a few more days. Bertuzzi has missed the last seven games.
... Christian Djoos' first goal with the Wings on Monday was the type of offensive dimension the Wings are hoping he brings on a regular basis.
"Djoos is more of a savvy, offensive, poised guy with the puck who moves the puck well," Blashill said. "He brings a different dimension, a unique player for our team."
...The Wings assigned forward Givani Smith to the minor league affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins from their taxi squad. Smith had four points (one goal, three assists) in eight games with the Wings. In a corresponding move, forward Evgeny Svechnikov was reassigned to the taxi squad, from Grand Rapids.
... The Wings worked on the power play during Tuesday's practice, needing to improve a unit that is ranked 30th (out of 31 teams) at 7.6%.
"We looked at some different units, we'll see what we go with (Wednesday)," Blashill said. "You look at schematics, where players are, who is on it and if they're in the right spot. Are there players we're not getting enough out of?"
Blackhawks at Red Wings
► Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
► TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
►Outlook: Chicago (8-5-4) has won the first three games against the Red Wings (4-10-3) this season. ... Chicago has won five of its last six games, four them in overtime. ... It's the second of a six-game homestand for the Red Wings.