Less than one week into the regular season, we have the first trade of note. Late Monday evening, the Ottawa Senators acquired pending unrestricted free agent Vladislav Namestnikov from the New York Rangers in exchange for a 2021 fourth-round draft pick and depth defenseman Nick Ebert.
The Rangers moving Namestnikov comes as no surprise. He saw his ice time dip from 15 minutes on opening night against Winnipeg to just 11:32 on Saturday against Ottawa, and it comes on the heels of a season in which he had already seen his ice team decrease drastically. The good news for Namestnikov is that the Senators will provide him the opportunity to play a consistent role, making it a welcome change of scenery for the 26-year-old, who saw his production dip from 48 points in 62 games split between New York and the Tampa Bay Lightning to 31 points in 78 contests last season. Namestnikov has experience on both wings and could replace Tyler Ennis on the top line alongside Brady Tkachuk and Colin White. It's a decent NHL piece for the Senators at a time when they're missing exactly that: NHL pieces.
As for the Rangers, the return doesn't appear to be all that much. Ebert, who signed with Ottawa over the summer, was selected 211th overall by the Los Angeles Kings and has yet to play an NHL game. He's nothing more than a deep depth-chart addition who will likely spend the campaign with the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack. So, what was the impetus for the trade? It's possible that there are two factors at play. First, the trade clears $3.25 million off the books for the Rangers, which further helps New York absorb some pricy off-season additions, including Artemi Panarin's seven-year, $81.5-million deal. More importantly, though, Namestnikov's departure might be exactly what's needed to open up roster spots for up-and-comers.
Take Filip Chytil, for example. Chytil played nearly a full season in the NHL last season, mustering 11 goals and 23 points and providing plenty of promise. Without a spot for him on the roster to start the campaign, though, he was sent down to the AHL, where he's recorded two points in two games to start the season. He's frothing at the mouth for another shot in the NHL. And he's not the only one. Vitali Kravtsov was considered by some a potential fit on the opening-night roster, and Namestnikov's trade out of town could mean Kravtsov gets his shot. Of course, Chytil may have a leg up, but Kravstov played well enough during the pre-season to earn a shot. It's also interesting that Kravtsov was a healthy scratch recently in Hartford.
The concern with calling up either is the risk of limiting the minutes for the two young stars. The thought behind stashing them in Hartford was that they would see plenty of playing time instead of limited minutes with the big club. It's true, too, that a one-for-one replacement for Namestnikov means anywhere from 15 to 12 minutes per outing. But a spot on the third-line presents an interesting opportunity. Success could result in bigger minutes, and if Chris Kreider, the lone top-six forward on the club without a deal for next season, ends up shipped out of town, a solid performance in a depth role could vault whoever is called up into a spot in the top six.
Questions still remain for the Rangers, who aren't a projected playoff team this season, but the club has a promising future with some of the top young prospects in the league. We're still waiting for Kaapo Kakko's first goal, but it's coming. And so is New York's resurgence up front, with Chytil and Kravtsov expected to play leading roles in the future. Even if the time isn't now for either, it won't be long until they force their way on to the roster and play a pivotal part in the team's rebuild.
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