June 8, 2011
Namestnikov rides first-round bubble
By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
LONDON, ONT. - Vladislav Namestnikov met with 22 NHL clubs last week at the draft combine in Toronto.
It wasn't a batch of typical job interviews.
"Some are serious and some are funny -- one team asked me which girls are prettier," said the London Knights . . . only 30-goal man last season. "Russian or Canadian."
To protect the 18-year-old forward from being jeered out of the John Labatt Centre this fall, his response won't be divulged.
But right now, there's a major question hanging over the guy expected to be the top Russian player selected June 24 in Minnesota.
Is he a first rounder or not?
"I think he is," Knights GM Mark Hunter said.
Scouts loved his speed and skill but weighed it against a need to bulk up and improve his defensive awareness.
The 6-foot, 166-pound Namestnikov is rated 11th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting and Mark Edwards . . . Hockey Prospect scouting service has him projected at No. 30 -- the last pick in the first round.
"It was a big adjustment to the OHL but I think it got better as the year went on," Namestnikov said. "I learned a lot, I've worked as hard as I can and I'm not worried about what round I'm picked or where I go. I didn't get a feeling either way (at the combine).
"It's in the hands of God now."
In one sense, Namestnikov has already been selected by a professional hockey team. He was picked 11th overall in the Kontinental Hockey League draft by Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, a club his father Evgeny, a former Vancouver Canucks prospect, played for in Russia.
"It doesn't matter," Vladislav said. "I'm not going back there to play. I made that decision last year when I came to London. My family moved (to Michigan)."
Back then, the young Namestnikov inherited Don Meehan's Newport Sports agency in Mississauga as a unique second-generation client. When dad Evgeny originally emigrated to North America in the mid-1990s, he brought his family to live at Newport adviser Anna Goruven's home.
Anna's daughter Susanna is now one of Vladislav's advisers.
"My mom would do that for all her clients' families to help them make the transition," she said, "and Vladdy wouldn't have even been three when he lived with us.
"He always had that (big mop of) hair, but when I met him again last year, I couldn't believe how quiet and shy he was. I remembered him as rambunctious, not reserved at all."
She said there is video somewhere of Namestnikov the toddler buzzing all over the place.
"If I can find it, I'm going to make sure it gets on TV when he's famous," Susanna said. "He's from a hockey family. His mom is (former Detroit Red Wing) Slava Kozlov's sister so she understands this is serious business. "
Throughout his draft preparations, Namestnikov has heard Susanna's stories of her time spent helping former client Alex Ovechkin adjust to the North American hockey life.
"People think of Ovechkin as a big star now, but back then, he was a kid who hadn't played in the league and he had to prove himself, too," she said. "They all do. There's always uncertainty. There's a saying for it -- if you want to be sure of something, then life's not for you."
Hometown: Voskresensk, Russia
Weight: 166 pounds
Last season (with the Knights): 68 games
30 goals, 68 points, 49 penalty minutes