Traverse City — Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic is coming over to a new team, a new system, with different players in front of him.
The way Nedeljkovic sees it, there really isn’t a huge adjustment after being traded from the Carolina Hurricanes to the Red Wings.
For Nedeljkovic, the bottom line remains the same.
“Stop pucks,” Nedljkovic said during a Zoom interview Friday at Centre ICE Arena. “There really isn’t that much that changes, just in a different division and different team, learning a new system and getting familiar with the guys.
“But eventually that changes and becomes second nature.”
There remains surprise around the NHL that the Wings were able to acquire Nedeljkovic, 25, from Carolina for the rights to goaltender Jonathan Bernier (who eventually signed with New Jersey) and a third-round pick in July’s Entry Draft.
Nedeljkovic was coming off a season in which he was a finalist for the Calder Trophy (rookie of the year), with a 15-5-3 record, 1.90 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. He started nine playoff games for Carolina, with a .920 save percentage.
It seemed like Carolina had found its starting goaltender. But Nedeljkovic was a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, and Carolina decided to avert any risk of a salary it didn’t want.
The Wings signed Nedeljkovic to a two-year contract worth $6 million ($3 million cap hit per year).
Now they have a goaltender who could hold the net for a long time.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Nedeljkovic said of his joining the Wings. “When the trade happened you kind of see the writing on the wall and this was an opportunity for me to come in and hopefully play a lot of games, or potentially split 50-50 with Greisser (Thomas Greiss).”
Nedeljkovic knew quite a few Wings from summer workouts. But getting a full training camp in Traverse City is a huge plus.
“These few days in TC will be beneficial for everybody,” he said. “It’s been good intensity. The pace of everything has been great. You can tell guys have been itching to get going. Summer skates are great, they’re always fun and relaxed and easy going, but there’s nothing like an actual practice and the intensity ramps up from there.”
At 6-foot, 203 pounds, Nedeljkovic isn’t the big, tall goaltender who has been the rage recently in the NHL. He has relied on his quickness, technique and determination to get to the league, and excel.
“I have friends who have coached him that swear by him,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “They love his ability, they love his compete, love his swagger and his ability to perform under pressure.”
Blashill believes being a smaller in stature has driven Nedeljkovic.
“What he did last season in those 20 (23) games was excellent,” Blashill said. “Can he keep going for 50 games, for 40 games? We’ll see, consistency in this league is critical.”
New line for Erne
Forward Adam Erne had a breakout season, of sorts, with 11 goals last season, establishing himself in the lineup, and earning a two-year contract worth $4.2 million ($2.1 million cap hit).
Erne clicked on a line with Darren Helm and Luke Glendening last season, before both left as free agents. Erne has been skating with Vladislav Namestnikov and Michael Rasmussen the opening days of camp, and is optimistic this line can be as effective.
“It’s about hard work and that’s going to be the identity of our line and our team,” Erne said. “We’re all excited to get going and see how things pan out, and get the season underway.”
Erne was able to capitalize on opportunities on the power play, and in the lineup, after not seeing that kind of ice time early last season.
“I happened to be able to earn it and I can look back and say I took advantage and made the best of it,” Erne said.
The Wings would love to see Filip Zadina progress.
He scored six goals last season, a disappointment, though he impressed on the defensive side of the puck.
“We would love for him to take that step offensively,” Blashill said. “If he’s occupying a top-six role, he has to take that step offensively, otherwise somebody else will have an opportunity. That’s reality.”
Blashill talked about how the organization has spent considerable time developing Zadina, and Zadina’s overall game has grown.
The hope is his offense takes off this season.
“Some of it is with the puck and learning how to be a little bit give and go (type of player) and find the open areas and how to get the puck off quicker and be more accurate with his shot,” Blashill said. “That leads to more offense.”
Blashill said forward Jakub Vrana was expected to arrive in Traverse City on Friday night after encountering visa issues this week.
… With the Wings looking to fill some penalty-killing slots, Robby Fabbri was practicing in that role Friday. Blashill said others would get chances Saturday to show what they can do.