Detroit — It appears as if the Red Wings will be looking for a goaltender to help out Alex Nedeljkovic next season.
If that’s the case, Magnus Hellberg is doing everything he can to win the job.
In his only Wings appearance, in the regular-season finale on April 29, Hellberg defeated the New Jersey Devils with a 20-save effort. And currently, at the men’s world championships in Finland, Hellberg has been one of Sweden’s best players while posting a 4-0-0 record with a balmy 1.47 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.
The quarterfinals begin Thursday in the tournament, with Sweden (4-1-1 before Tuesday’s final preliminary game against Latvia), looking like a definite championship contender.
“To have an opportunity to represent your country is something I value really high,” Hellberg, 31, said after his brief Wings debut ended. “When I get the chance to do that, of course, I’m really excited about that. I had a chance to be in the Olympics (in February) and that was a blast.
“It’s a great honor to have the opportunity to put on the Swedish jersey.”
Hellberg’s arrival in North America, with just two weeks left in the regular season, wasn’t ideal.
Hellberg hadn’t been in a game since the Olympics ended. Hellberg had been playing in Russia’s KHL, but a coronavirus outbreak ended that season early.
Hellberg hadn’t played an organized game in almost three months — he had only some drill work with a goaltending coach — and arrived in Detroit with only eight games remaining and Alex Nedeljkovic and Thomas Greiss healthy and secure in the lineup.
Former Wings coach Jeff Blashill, and then goaltending coach Jeff Salajko — both were let go after the season ended — worked Hellberg extensively in practice but didn’t get him into the game until the finale in New Jersey.
Hellberg was appreciative of the chance, noting the support he received from the staff and players.
“I wanted to show what I could do,” Hellberg said. “It’s a great group of guys. They welcomed me from the start.
“I kind of felt pretty good right off the bat there. The guys played great in front of me.
“For not playing in a couple of months, I’m happy with how it went. Obviously, I don’t want to let in any goals, but it was fun to be out there.”
The Wings were going to bring Hellberg a month earlier when injuries were cutting into the goaltending depth in the organization, but immigration and visa issues delayed Hellberg, who, at 6-foot-6, 210-pounds, has intriguing size and athleticism.
General manager Steve Yzerman and Hellberg’s representatives have yet to delve into what the future could hold. Hellberg could be an unrestricted free agent this summer, but likely would head back to Russia if he doesn’t find an NHL job, having said he has no interest in playing in the AHL.
Nedeljkovic will return as the Wings’ starter, but Greiss (10-15-1, 3.66 GAA, .891 SVS) is expected to leave in free agency, with the Wings seemingly not interested in re-signing him.
Yzerman will need to find a veteran who can share more of the workload than Greiss did this past season. The key question for the Wings will be whether Hellberg, who only has five NHL games on his resume, is the player to fill that spot.
“We just talked about me coming here the last couple of weeks (of the season) and just be part of the team and practice,” said Hellberg, of his discussions with Yzerman. “We’ll see what happens in the future.”
Hellberg didn’t hide his hopes of possibly staying with the Wings next season, saying he had “a blast” in his short stint with the team.
“I got to see the facilities and to know the staff around the team and the guys,” Hellberg said. “Detroit has a bright future. Of course, it would be a place that I would like to be a part of in the future, but we’ll see what happens.”
How are other Red Wings’ doing at the world championships?
Hellberg (Sweden), defenseman Mortiz Seider (Germany), and forward Pius Suter (Switzerland) arguably are playing the best hockey.
Suter has seven points (two goals, five assists) sparking a surprisingly undefeated Switzerland team (6-0-0), which is leading its pool play by a point over Germany (5-0-1).
Seider has a goal and four assists for Germany and has provided some thunderous hits.
The tournament hasn’t gone smoothly for either forward Jakub Vrana or defenseman Filip Hronek (Czechia).
Hronek has yet to earn a point in five games, and was involved in an altercation with Czechia teammate Dominik Simon near the beginning of the tournament. Simon, who took responsibility for the disagreement and apologized, left the Czechian team shortly after the incident.
Vrana has one goal (his only point) in five games and avoided a leg injury on a hit along the boards last week.
Nedeljkovic was expected to be Team USA’s goaltender, but suffered a lower-body injury before the tournament began and withdrew as a precautionary measure.
Griffins forward Riley Barber has one goal in five games for Team USA.
Blashill is an assistant on coach David Quinn’s staff, after having been head coach of Team USA for three consecutive years (2017-19). Team USA is 2-2-2 and Tuesday must beat Norway to secure a quarterfinal spot.