Bigger, Stronger Namestnikov Settling In as No. 1 Center

By Jeremy Houghtaling

After spending most of the offseason putting on 15 pounds of muscle, Vladislav Namestnikov is starting to see the results.

The second year Syracuse Crunch center, who trained in the summer with Joe Neal at 2SP Elite Athletic Development in Michigan, has used his new-found mass to register six points in the first five games of the season. He's adjusting to his new role as the team's top center, but at 6-feet, 185 pounds, Namestnikov is still working to get bigger.

"I think I got a little faster, and in the corners I'm winning more battles," the 20-year-old said. "It's good."

Crunch coach Rob Zettler believes Namestnikov is being rewarded for playing to his strength.

"(Namestnikov) has never been a guy that has shied away from any type of physicality," Zettler said of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s first-round pick in 2011. "When he's involved and going into the corners and in front of the net, that's when he gets his points and that's when he's playing his best."

Namestnikov and his linemates, Nikita Kucherov and JT Brown, have combined for 18 points in Syracuse’s first five games.

The trio is the Crunch's first line, and is also part of the team's top power play unit, which is ranked third in the league at 28.6 percent. Of Syracuse’s eight goals with the man-advantage, Namestnikov has two and Kucherov and Brown have combined for four more.

While the line has clicked with the man-advantage throughout the first part of the season, its time at full-strength is still a work in progress.

"They've had their power play success, but not as much 5-on-5 success," Zettler said. "Last game they had 5-on-5 success because they were doing some little details right -- playing away from the puck correctly, supporting each other in the offensive zone as well as the defensive zone -- and they were rewarded for it."

"We're getting used to each other more and more," Namestnikov said. "You just try to work as hard as you can and try to be in the right spot."

Last year as a rookie, Namestnikov was a part of the Syracuse team that made it to the Calder Cup Finals.The Michigan-raised Russian put up 21 points in 44 games last season despite a shoulder injury, and added seven points in 18 playoff contests.

More importantly, it provided a target for this year’s Crunch team to shoot for.

"That was a great experience going all the way, but we came short of it," Namestnikov said. "It's sad, but that's life. Here we are again, a new season. We're going to try to do it again."