When Steve Yzerman traded for goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, I’d be lying if I said I thought he hit a home run. I didn’t know too much about the 25-year old only that split time in Carolina with a former Detroit Red Wings netminder Petr Mrazek.
The first time I really noticed Nedeljkovic or ‘Ned’ had been in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs when he’d been pressed into duty due to injuries and played exceptionally well for the Hurricanes. Ned appeared in nine playoff games last season, guiding the Hurricanes to a 4-5 record posting an incredible .920 save percentage to go along with a 2.17 goals-against average plus completing one shutout.
That success came on the tails of a tremendous rookie season, putting him as a finalist for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the league’s top rookie. Ironically, Nedeljkovic played enough games to be in Calder consideration, but not enough to eliminate him from contention once again in 2021.
That is a bit of an odd rule the NHL has in place, I feel once a player is nominated for the rookie of the year award, said player shouldn’t be eligible the following season, but that’s just me. Ned appeared in 23 games posting a record of 15-5-3 with a league-leading save percentage and a goals-against-average of .932, and 1.90, respectfully.
Alex Nedeljkovic is becoming a franchise-caliber goaltender in his first season with the Detroit Red Wings.
Funny enough, Ned wears the no. 39, and if you’ve followed my work over the years, you will understand the love I had/have for Dominik Hasek.
Although Ned is not nearly on the same level as Hasek, who, in my opinion, is the greatest goaltender ever to live, Ned does remind me of Hasek, usually once a game. Hasek had such an unorthodox style of play that will never be replicated, and his unpredictability made him so special. As a shooter, just the thought of not knowing what this crazy goaltender was going to do already put a little bit of doubt in their minds. Just ask Marian Gaborik.
The goaltender already has a leg up when a shooter is thinking about the netminder and not where they want to go with the puck. And leg up, that’s just what Hasek was known for. Some would say (Hasek haters) he was flopping like a fish, and he was the luckiest goaltender in the history of the game as the puck would just hit him.
Well, he, in fact, practiced the patented move he’s most known for; after reaching for the poke check, Hasek would swing his shoulders around, laying his left arm parallel with the goal line across the goal crease, sealing up the bottom of the net.
Then at the same time, both of his legs would come flying through the air blocking the top of the net for a brief period. There was only a slight opportunity to sneak the puck past a flailing Hasek if a shooter bypassed the poke check.
Current Detroit Red Wings goaltender Nedeljkovic pulled the same move out of his bag of tricks earlier this season.
Ned also robbed Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat with a diving paddle save earlier on in the season, which furthermore describes his overall athleticism.
So far in 2021-22 with the Detroit Red Wings, Ned has started 17 games posting a rock-solid .918 save percentage to go with a 2.71 goals-against average. He’s 9-6-3 and has produced ten quality starts.
It’s crazy to think that Steve Yzerman may have landed the teams’ next franchise goaltender they’ve ever so desperately sought since the final couple seasons of Jimmy Howard’s career for a mere third-round pick (94th overall) in the 2021 NHL Draft, along with the free-agent rights of Jonathan Bernier. The latter later opted to sign with the New Jersey Devils.
Shortly after acquiring Ned, who’d been a pending restricted free agent (RFA), Yzerman signed him to a two-year contract extension that carries an average annual salary of $3 million; I can safely say that appears to be money well spent.
Ned, along with a rejuvenated Dylan Larkin, the emergence of Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider has paced the Detroit Red Wings to a respectable 14-12-3 record.