Namestnikov Making Most of Return to Crunch

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Vlad Namestnikov took less than one minute to show up on the scoresheet in his return to Syracuse.

The center, assigned to the Crunch last week to get more ice time after initially making the Tampa Bay Lightning out of training camp, scored a power play goal 59 seconds into his first game back and finished with two goals and three assists in a pair of weekend wins for the Crunch.

Namestnikov understands the reasons for being sent back to the American Hockey League, and is continuing to work on improving his game to return to the Lightning.

“I’m trying to stay positive,” Namestnikov said. “If I keep working and keep improving, I think good things will happen.”

Namestnikov was used in all situations and helped bolster a struggling Crunch power play. Coming into Friday’s game, Syracuse was 28th in the league on the power play, converting only 11 percent of its chances. Over the last two games, the Crunch have gone 3-for-10.

“I thought the power play was better with him on it because of his speed, especially on the rush,” Crunch head coach Rob Zettler said. “We had a few chances off the initial rush, which is encouraging.”

Namestnikov centered Joel Vermin and Jonathan Marchessault for most of the weekend. The trio was able to create offensive opportunities by using their speed.

“It’s easy playing with them,” Namestnikov said. “I’ve only been here for a week, but I think the chemistry is there already.”

After putting up 28 points in 62 games during his rookie season with the Crunch in 2012-13, the Lightning’s 2011 first-rounder accumulated 48 points in 56 games as the team’s top line center last season.

Healthy heading into the offseason, the 5-11, 171-pounder worked with Joe Neal at 2SP Sports Performance to get in peak physical shape for training camp.

“I started right away and I’ve had the same trainer for two years now,” said Namestnikov, who added 10 pounds of muscle after his rookie campaign. “I’m real happy with the results.”

Coming into camp with the Lightning, Namestnikov had one focus.

“Obviously the goal was to make the team,” Namestnikov said. “I didn’t really think about anything else.”

Namestnikov netted seven assists -- tied for the league lead -- during the preseason, and earned a spot in the opening night lineup.

Namestnikov recorded three goals, four assists and a plus-three rating in 23 games with the Lightning. But as time wore on, the forward depth started to push Namestnikov out of the lineup and the Lightning decided to send him to Syracuse for more ice time.

“I don’t think he has seen it as a negative,” Zettler said. “He understands the situation, which is they have extra bodies up there and they don’t want him sitting out.”

Despite being able to make an immediate impact on the Crunch, Namestnikov isn’t taking anything for granted. He plans to keep working to get back to and excel in the NHL.

“I can improve on everything,” Namestnikov said. “I’m just going to work hard in the gym and on the ice and try to provide energy.”