Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Nerves gone, Namestnikov raises game with Stamkos

VANCOUVER — Vladislav Namestnikov remembers the first time he played on a line with captain Steven Stamkos. "There's obviously nerves. It's 'Stammer,' " Namestnikov said.

But it didn't take long for Namestnikov, 23, to just play his game: puck possession, playmaking, mixing speed and savvy. That has made the two a great pair.

With Stamkos the past two games, Namestnikov is a combined plus-5 with three assists, including setting up Nikita Kucherov's goal in overtime of Saturday's 3-2 victory over the Canucks. Namestnikov has been a difference-maker, helping the Lightning get back-to-back wins.

"His confidence of being a regular in this league, it's here, it's arrived," coach Jon Cooper said. "And I think there was probably a day he would have been intimidated to play with (Stamkos). But I don't think that's the case anymore. That's something that has to be overcome. People don't realize, (it's like) you're playing basketball and all of a sudden you're a point guard playing with LeBron James."

The Lightning might not have a more improved player than Namestnikov, a first-round draft pick in 2011 who has six goals and 12 assists, and is tied for the team lead at plus-10. Thrust into a top-six role this season due to injuries, Namestnikov held his own playing wing with Stamkos.

Now that the Lightning is healthy, Namestnikov has earned bigger minutes, logging 19:10 Saturday, including a 1:05 overtime shift. Tired, Namestnikov won a battle on the boards and found Kucherov for a breakaway goal.

"You can see why he has confidence. He's a great player," Kucherov said. "As much as he gets ice (time), that's how much he gets confidence."

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