2011 NHL Draft: Tampa Bay Lightning First Rd Pick from Russia with Goals

JC De La TorreAnalyst IIIJune 24, 2011

Vlad the Impaler comes to Tampa Bay
Vlad the Impaler comes to Tampa Bay

With the top-flight defensemen going in a flurry in front of them, the Tampa Bay Lightning elected to continue to add to their forward depth by drafting Russian-born London Knights center Vladislav Namestnikov.

Lightning GM Steve Yzerman knows Namestnikov from his childhood, as the Russian's uncle was Yzerman's teammate, a Detroit Red Wings Stanley Cup champion, Slava Kozlov.

"He (Kozlov) always took me to the rink and showed me the locker room, got to meet all the guys," Namestnikov told NHL.com. "So it was really great growing up with him. My favorite was probably Steve Yzerman. He was the captain of the Red Wings at that time.”

Namestnikov's father was also an NHL draft pick and played a few years in the league.

The Lightning don't have to worry about KHL interference either, as Namestnikov came over to Canada's OHL to follow his NHL dream.

What the Lightning are getting in this youngster is a highly skilled, speedy sniper who takes care of the ice at both ends.

Scouts weighed in on his ability:

"Vlad plays a high-energy, two-way game. He’s very aggressive on the forecheck and backcheck and has the ability to beat defenders outside and cut back to the net. He has an excellent wrist shot that he can release with accuracy on the rush," said NHL Central Scouting’s Chris Edwards on NHL.com. "I find him most effective at center, but he is versatile enough to play a solid game on the wing, he’s very responsible defensively and is not afraid of getting involved and battling for pucks. He’ll take the body and take a hit to make a play."

“A very skilled offensive center. A reliable finisher," Matias Stozyk of Elite Prospects added. "A good passer and playmaker. An excellent skater. Takes advantage of open space very well. Needs to gain strength.”

“Vladislav has all the skills and talent to be a great player," said E.J. McGuire, NHL’s former Director of Central Scouting (courtesy ESPN.com). "He has a high understanding of the game and an ability to make things happen. And he compensates for a lack of size with straight-ahead speed.”

"The Russian factor will never go away. Even if he is already in North America, teams will always worry. Still, Vladislav Namistnikov has some dazzling skills," said Dan C. Chan of HockeyWilderness.com, a Minnesota Wild fansite. "He skates very well, has good offensive instincts and doesn't mind driving to the net. What differentiates him from being a mid-round first rounder to a second rounder is his inconsistency. His dazzling puck handling skills I mentioned doesn't seem to show up all the time. His lack of strength can also attribute to that inconsistency. Now, if you have a last first rounder, would you take the gamble?"

The Lightning certainly did. Namestnikov excelled in his first season of North American hockey, racking up 68 points, with 30 goals, in 68 games for the Knights.

Tampa Bay hopes they're catching Lightning in a bottle with this Russian Sniper.