Minor achievements: Detroit Red Wings’ Alex Nedeljkovic thriving, Jakub Vrana isn’t

Detroit Free Press

Having Alex Nedeljkovic in the minors seems to be just what he needed to boost his confidence — but it’s a different story for another veteran.

Nedeljkovic was assigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins for conditioning on Jan. 4, having gone almost a month since his last start with the Detroit Red Wings. Ville Husso and Magnus Hellberg are tending the net with the Wings during Nedeljkovic’s absence.

Nedeljkovic has started three straight games for the Griffins, going 2-0-1 with a 1.63 goals-against average and .950 save percentage. While that has come at the AHL level, it’s a good confidence booster for a player who looked dejected after his last game with the Wings, in which he allowed at least four goals for a third straight start.

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Nedeljkovic and Wings general manager Steve Yzerman talked at the start of last week about taking advantage of the Griffins’ home stand. At the time, no decision had been made on whether Nedeljkovic would stay in the minors for the full two weeks possible, but given how well he has played the past week, the Wings may deem him ready to come back. They’re off Sunday after playing three games in four nights, and next play Tuesday at home against the Winnipeg Jets.

It’s not so much goaltending help the Wings need, though — it’s scoring. They have just four goals the past three games: From defenseman Jake Walman in Saturday’s 4-1 loss at the Toronto Maple Leafs; from forwards Jonatan Berggren and Robby Fabbri in the 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers, and from Lucas Raymond in the 5-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils. But Vrana hasn’t even been scoring at the AHL level: In six games with the Griffins, the former top-line winger with the Wings has one assist and a minus-6 rating. He didn’t play hockey for the two months he was placed in the players assistance program, so some initial rust was to be expected, but he is too skilled an offensive player to be quiet for long.

The Wings originally placed Vrana in the minors on a conditioning stint, and went on to place him on waivers Jan. 3. He was assigned to the minors after clearing,‘ so while Vrana’s stay is indefinite, Nedeljkovic will soon be back in the Wings’ locker room.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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