Alex Nedeljkovic: waivers to Hurricanes No. 1 goalie

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Carolina Hurricanes goalie Alex Nedeljkovic (39) goes through his pre-game ritual as he prepares for Game 2 against Tampa Bay on Tuesday, June 1, 2021 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC

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A year ago, Alex Nedeljkovic returned to Parma, Ohio, for a hockey offseason surrounded by uncertainty.

When will the 2020-21 NHL season begin? How many matches would be played during the pandemic? How safe would that be?

The Carolina Hurricanes then re-signed goaltender Petr Mrazek in free agency. James Reimer was coming back. Where did that leave Nedeljkovic?

This year, Nedeljkovic returns to Parma with a slightly higher head after a season that could be described as a dream come true. He finished it as the Canes’ No.1 goalkeeper – and he plans to be No.1 at the start of the 2021-22 season.

“I feel like maybe I opened my eyes to the league, or to anyone who doubted whether I could do it or not,” Nedeljkovic said Thursday in a media interview.

Nedeljkovic did it. He is a finalist for the 2021 Calder Trophy, the NHL Rookie of the Year award. He’s not favorite to win it – Minnesota forward Karill Kaprizov seems like a lock – but the fact that he’s one of the three finalists underlines everything he’s accomplished this season with the Canes.

“He’s been with the organization for a few years so he wasn’t a newcomer,” defenseman Brett Pesce said on Thursday. “But it was remarkable what this guy did. He’s so calm, confident in his abilities, and nothing seems to really shake him, which is obviously what you need in a goalie.

“It was amazing to see. He has improved a lot over the year. I’m just excited for him and obviously for the team to see if he can go one step further to help us there. .

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Carolina Hurricanes goalie Alex Nedeljkovic (39) stops a shot attempt by Brock McGinn (23) during practice on Saturday, May 29, 2021 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC Robert Willett [email protected]

To do work

Nedeljkovic, 25, wants to take this next step. He apparently played this season with a chip on his shoulder, to prove he was in the NHL and could do the job. Now he wants the No.1 position, regardless of any offseason move the Canes might make.

Nedeljkovic signed a two-year contract with Carolina in June 2019, which was a two-way deal the first year and one-way the second, in the 2020-21 season. His one-way contract was worth $ 750,000.

It turned out to be a bargain after Mrazek injured his thumb at the start of the season, requiring surgery. The Canes put Nedeljkovic on waivers in the NHL – he was unclaimed – in order to be placed on the team’s taxi squad. Called up, he played 23 games with a 15-5-3 record with a 1.90 goals-against average and .932 save percentage with three shutouts as the Canes won the Central Division.

This is called doing.

“I never doubted myself at any point that I could do it,” said Nedeljkovic. “I always believed I could do it. I just needed this opportunity to really show that I can and kind of have that, not to trust but to have the opportunity to get a few matches and run with whatever happens.

“The first few games were a bit of a roller coaster, top to bottom. I was able to play a little more after that, I settled in, I got comfortable, I understood. Things kind of took off from there.

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Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic (39) deflects shots during a pre-game warm-up ahead of Game 5 of their Stanley Cup series against Tampa Bay on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 at PNC Arena in Raleigh , NC Robert Willett [email protected]

Always seek to dominate

What’s the next step in his progression as an NHL goalie?

“I always believed I could do it and this year I think it just reinforces that fact,” said Nedeljkovic. “Now it’s not just about playing here and making a career as a NHL goalie. It’s trying to dominate and trying to be the best goalie you can be and be the best goalie in the league.

“That’s my goal. That’s what I want to be. That’s what I want to be. I want to win Stanley Cups. That’s what everyone wants to do. You grow up dreaming of winning the Stanley Cup, that’s what I want to do.

Nedeljkovic is not afraid of the word “dominate”. That’s what he wants to do at the net. In the playoff series against Tampa Bay, he looked the ice towards the Lightning net and saw Andrei Vasilevskiy, the league’s top goaltender, a guy who often dominates.

Nedeljkovic wants to achieve that kind of stature. He freely says he shouldn’t have allowed soft goals in each of the first two games of the second round playoff series. He said Vasielsvkiy, who shut out the Canes 2-0 on Tuesday in Game 5 to win the series, refuses to allow goals at such places.

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Carolina Hurricanes goalie Alex Nedeljkovic (39), defenseman Jaccob Slavin (74) and center Jordan Staal (11) defend against Tampa Bay Lightning center Blake Coleman (20) in the first period of the Game 5 of a second round of the Stanley Cup NHL Playoff Series in Raleigh, NC on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (AP Photo / Gerry Broome) Gerry Broome PA

Moving forward

Nedelkovic, referred to as “Ned” by his teammates and friends, said he hadn’t always been the outwardly cool and calm goalie Pesce mentioned, claiming he was “kind of a hothead” in hockey. junior. But he grew up. He matured, physically but also emotionally.

“He’s not arrogant or arrogant,” Canes defenseman Brady Skjei said in the playoffs. “He just carries that confidence that you need as a goalie. “

Nedeljkovic’s plans for the next few months are simple: go home, be with his fiancée, relax, play with his dog. Go to the gym, work on your game, improve your technique.

And get a new contract.

As a restricted free agent eligible for arbitration, Nedeljkovic will get a nice pay raise. But how much? And for how long ? It’s part of the Canes’ offseason salary cap puzzle.

“You’re proud of this kid,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said this week. “He has been with us for a long time, has paid his dues and has given time. It’s nice to see that it pays off for him. Hope it will be a big part of us moving forward.

Follow more of our reporting on the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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In over 30 years at the N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the NC State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and is now in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous state and national writing awards, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was part of The N&O’s coverage of the 2006 Stanley Cup race for the Canes.



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