Detroit Hockey Now’s Red Wings Review series is assessing every player who held a significant place in the fortunes of the 2022-23 Detroit Red Wings season. We’ll be looking at the highs and lows they experienced during the recently-completed campaign, as well as what the future holds for them in Detroit. Today, we feature Michael Rasmussen
2022-23 totals (GP-W-L-OT-GAA-SA%): 15-5-7-2-3.53-.895
Contract Status: Will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) this summer
When Alex Nedeljkovic made 37 saves to lead the Detroit Red Wings to a 5-2 win against the New Jersey Devils in the second game of the season it seemed as if he was primed for a strong season.
At best, Nedeljkovic was supposed to end up in a tandem situation with Ville Husso. At worst, he would be the able backup, someone who could make 25-plus starts and give his team a shot to win those games. But that’s not how the season unfolded.
That night against the Devils may have been the best night of his season because at that point he was still in the Red Wings’ plans for the season. No one knew at that time that three months later he would be sent to the AHL after 31 other NHL teams passed on him in the waiver process.
There are some aspects of Nedeljkovic’s season that should be remembered: First, the Red Wings played some of their worst defensive games early in the season when Nedeljkovic was playing goal. Second, Nedeljkovic played well in Grand Rapids. His strong play made the Griffins more competitive than they had been before he arrived. The Red Wings appreciated how he handled his demotion, not sulking about the decision. Finally, he had some quality performances for Detroit late in the season when he was needed because of injuries.
“It was a tough spot for him,” Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde said. “We are in the business of winning. He wasn’t giving us that chance earlier in the year. We made a change but he went down, got his rhythm, got his workload. Circumstances gave him another opportunity and he seized it. That’s all you can ask of him. It’s great on him and really good for him going forward. ”
— The Oakland Press (@TheOaklandPress) October 16, 2022
2022-23 Red Wings Highlights
From March 25 to April 11, Nedeljkovic finished strong with 3-2 record and .925 save percentage in his last five starts.
Lalonde lauded Nedeljkovic late in the season for pulling his game together after a poor start.
“I just think (it was) confidence,” Lalonde said in April. “You can even see it in the way he’s attacking. He’s on the top of his paint now, he’s seeing pucks in traffic. I like the way he’s handling the puck. He went through a stretch there. There was moments where it felt like every rush might go in. It’s just the reality of him probably playing a little nervous, probably playing on his heels instead of his toes. Now you feel nothing’s going in. He’s sharp. He just looks really comfortable in there, finding pucks, eating pucks. And again, one thing I brought up in the last game, I don’t think people appreciate how important his puck play has been for our breakouts, spending less time in our zone.”
2022-23 Red Wings Lowlight
Alex Nedeljkovic cleared waivers and was demoted to the Grand Rapids Griffins on Jan. 15. At the time Nedeljkovic was sent down, he owned a 4.09 GAA and an .880 save percentage. He had lost the No. 2 goalie spot to Magnus Hellberg.
The Ohio native had given up four or more goals six times in his first eight starts for the Red Wings in 2022-23. The Red Wings carried three goalies for a while, but Nedeljkovic hadn’t played for the Red Wings in more than a month when they put him on waivers. That followed a conditioning stint with the Griffins.
What Does His Detroit Future Hold?
GM Steve Yzerman didn’t publicly close the door on Nedeljkovic coming back. But it seems clear Yzerman wants to explore his goaltending options this summer. Detroit’s goaltending statistics, which includes Husso’s play, didn’t stack up well against the rest of the league.
Sebastian Cossa won’t be ready for at least another year, and maybe longer. The Red Wings need a consistent, dependable partner for Husso next season. That’s not who Nedeljkovic was last season. The question to ask is whether Nedeljkovic needs to play frequently to stay sharp. He was much more consistent playing regularly in Grand Rapids or at the end of last season with Detroit. Some goalies aren’t wired to sit for lengthy periods and then step in. Some handle that fine. Not sure whether Nedeljkovic is right for a 25-game backup role.
But the goalie market is thin this summer. Yzerman will not have as many options as he would like.
The other factor that should be remembered is Nedeljkovic is still only 27. John Lethemon is one of Detroit’s minor league prospects and he’s 26. Nedeljkovic has had moments when he has looked like he could be an impact performer. He could still have a quality career in front of him. But it probably isn’t going to be with the Red Wings.