When the Detroit Red Wings acquired Alex Nedeljkovic, the team finally had a bonafide starter – on paper, at least. But then the 2021-22 season began.
Nedeljkovic had a rough first start in Hockeytown, allowing seven goals to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Since then, Thomas Greiss has started both games for the Red Wings and performed exceedingly well.
Should Red Wings fans be concerned about Nedeljkovic’s slow start? The answer is no, and here’s why.
Transition to Red Wings Hockey
It’s no secret the Red Wings are not the Carolina Hurricanes – Nedeljkovic’s former team. Last year, the up-and-coming netminder faced 6.9 high-danger chances against per 60 (HDCA/60) at five-on-five in Carolina’s crease. Easy living if you ask me.
Nedeljkovic’s first game in Detroit featured 14.54 HDCA/60 at five-on-five. That’s a lot of quality chances for any goalie to navigate. The Red Wings also gave the Lightning ample time to operate on the power play – which isn’t even factored into the number above. With the man advantage, Tampa Bay produced an abundance of high-danger chances and three of their seven goals.
It was a rough homecoming for the Belle Tire youth program alum. But this was to be expected. Greiss and Jonathan Bernier both experienced similar woes in their first handful of games with the Red Wings. Detroit’s personnel, defensive game plan, and overall systems are different from other teams, and it takes time to adjust to them – even for an above-average goalie like Nedeljkovic.
Apart from bursting onto the scene with the Hurricanes last season, Nedeljkovic has a long history of success. He previously backstopped the Charlotte Checkers to the AHL’s Calder Cup in 2019. Nedeljkovic led the AHL in wins that season (34), plus the year prior (31).
Going back even further, the netminder guided the United States to a bronze medal at the 2016 World Junior Championship. He was also the 2013-14 OHL goalie of the year, and won gold at the U18 World Junior Championship that year as well.
Clearly, Nedeljkovic is a quality goalie who has had success at every level of the game. Heck, he has even scored not one, but two goals in his career.
Executives, scouts, and, most importantly, Steve Yzerman all believe in Nedeljkovic’s ability.
“I really like Nedeljkovic. I like the way he plays. He seems to read the play really well, he’s always a step ahead. In Detroit, it’s going to be a lot tougher than Carolina. He’s a solid starter, though.”–Anonymous former goalie (from ‘NHL Goalie Tiers 2021-22: Anonymous panel of GMs and coaches rates all 32 starters’ – The Athletic – 10/11/21)
It may take some time, but Nedeljkovic will be a great fit in Detroit. Plus, the team defense is improving every year, so he’ll have more support moving into the future.
Red Wings & Nedeljkovic Will Work Out
Despite his slow start, Red Wings fans should not worry about Nedeljkovic. Adjusting to Detroit’s defense takes time, as evidenced by his predecessors. Plus, he’s a quality netminder who has succeeded at every level – he’ll do the same in Hockeytown soon enough.
But the sooner Nedeljkovic can find his game, the better. The Red Wings won’t be scoring six goals very often – or even four or five for that matter. More likely, they will have to lean on strong goaltending to keep games close. Nedeljkovic has the skill set to make this game plan work, though he’ll likely need a few more starts to get comfortable in his new environment.
Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.