The Detroit Red Wings have certainly found their goaltender of the future. Alex Nedeljkovic was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Jonathan Bernier and a third-round draft pick in the 2021 NHL draft. Nedeljkovic started the 2021-22 season as a candidate on the Red Wings for the Calder Memorial Trophy along with Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond.
As with all young players in the NHL, Nedeljkovic has begun to struggle. This is in conjunction with the Red Wings going through a difficult portion of their schedule. The “break” in their schedule was seen as a recent game against the Arizona Coyotes. This did not come to pass as the Coyotes would wind up winning the game by the score of 9-2. The lone bright spot in this game was when Jakub Vrana scored a goal in his first game returning to the team after injuring his shoulder in training camp.
Nedeljkovic signed a two-year contract extension with the Red Wings worth $6 million. He has said that he was happy to be in Detroit. Being from Ohio it is no surprise that Nedeljkovic is happy living in the Midwest. He has already been a resident of the metro Detroit area for over a decade.
An error on a dump-in by Joel Eriksson Ek of the Minnesota Wild led to Nedeljkovic putting the puck into his own net. Maybe this was just a mistake by the young netminder. Or maybe it was indicative of the fact that Nedeljkovic needed a break. The issue for the Red Wings is that their backup goalie Thomas Greiss has not been reliable either. The 36-year-old has a .476 save percentage in 24 games played during the 2021-22 season.
This has certainly hindered the possibility of Greiss being possibly traded at the trade deadline on March 21st. This is not to say that the rest of the NHL would not be looking for a veteran presence in the net. This is something for general manager Steve Yzerman to keep in mind when it comes to Greiss.
Nedeljkovic was replaced in this game by backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier. This happened once again in a game against the Edmonton Oilers. The difference between these two games is obviously the quality of the opponent. Another difference between these two games is the fact that the Red Wings fought back in the game against the Oilers. The Red Wings would lose the game to the Oilers by a score of 7-5. The problem with this game was the start.
Head coach Jeff Blashill recently said that he is “really proud” of the way that the team fought back and competed against one of the better teams in the league. In defence of Nedeljkovic, the problem was with the start of the game. Edmonton had the puck in Detroit’s zone for the first three minutes of the game. The defence in front of him let Nedeljkovic down by not getting the puck out of their defensive zone.
The Red Wings have improved under Blashill. Not enough to make a playoff push just yet. The glaring weakness is still the right side of the defence. According to Elite Prospects, the highest-ranked right-handed shooting defenseman in the Red Wings system is Alex Cotton at eighth overall at 6’2”. Cotton is an offensively-minded defenseman who could play on the third line for a team if he pans out as a prospect.
Cotton has split time between the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League during the 2021-22 season. He has scored 14 goals in 42 games played between the two teams so far. This type of player can be valuable to a Red Wings team that is rebuilding.
Seider has also said recently that he has struggled. This is surprising because on March first Seider set a new Red Wings franchise record for rookies by scoring 12 points in just seven games, breaking Reed Larson’s record in 1977-78. This is to be expected for every young player in the NHL. This has not stopped Seider from doing things night after night that make you shake your head. At only 20-years-old he has plenty of time to learn how to play at the NHL level.
The Red Wings have their goaltender of the future in Nedeljkovic. This is in spite of the fact that Nedeljkovic has struggled recently. They cannot rely on Greiss to be their backup goalie now. This is in part due to the fact that the defence in front of the goaltenders is not up to par.
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