New goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic 'very excited' to return home, join Red Wings
Detroit — Sometimes an athlete gets traded to a city and team that isn't a match, or isn't an ideal fit.
That would not be an apt description with new Red Wings goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic.
Acquired Thursday by the Wings from Carolina for the rights to unrestricted free-agent goalie Jonathan Bernier and a third-round pick in this weekend's Entry Draft, the trade could work out superbly for the Wings.
Just as it already has for Nedeljkovic, who has lived in the Metro Detroit area the last 10 years. He and his wife, Emma, live here, and he played junior hockey for Belle Tire and the Plymouth Whalers.
“She was ecstatic, probably happier than I was that I’d be staying home full time,” Nedeljkovic said. “Because she’s been doing school (Michigan State nursing school) the last few years, we haven’t been able to spend the entire year living together. We’re really excited just to be together year-round.
"It’ll just be normal now, and it's exciting.
“We were happy to be in Carolina. It was starting to feel like home and we were excited to put some roots down there. But we’re very excited to be in Detroit. This has been home for me in the offseason for 10 years and for my wife, four or five years. We can just go on living life like we have been and just enjoy it."
The fact the Hurricanes moved away from Nedeljkovic, 25, so quickly, for fear his arbitration salary could be above what they wanted to pay, remains somewhat a mystery.
Nedeljkovic reportedly was seeking $3.5 million per season. He signed a two-year deal with the Wings for $6 million total ($3 million per season salary cap hit).
"As much as it is a game, and everybody plays it and has fun and enjoys it, it is a business too, at this point," Nedeljkovic said. "We (he and the Hurricanes) just weren't on the same page. We just couldn't come to an agreement. But we were able to move on to a great organization and that fits in perfectly for us and our personal lives, too."
But since the Hurricanes were the only NHL organization Nedeljkovic had known, Thursday's developments were still a shock.
"I was a little surprised at the move," Nedeljkovic said. "I've been in Charlotte (the Hurricane's minor-league affiliate), been in Raleigh, my entire career since I got drafted. Being in the organization, it really started to feel like home and we loved being down there."
But Nedeljkovic is now excited to begin the new chapter in his pro career with the Wings.
"It's an opportunity to play, an opportunity to not just kickstart my career, but to really try to get it going in the right direction and cement that I can play in this league and be an NHL goalie,” said Nedeljkovic, who general manager Steve Yzerman mentioned Thursday has the potential to be a longtime NHL starting goalie. "It’s great to hear that. Steve’s one of the great players to play the game and the last few years, since he's been in charge, things have been in going in the right direction with this team."
Nedeljkovic was a Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) finalist who went 15-5-3 with a 1.90 goals-against average and .932 save percentage with Carolina. In the playoffs, Nedeljkovic helped take Carolina into the second round, with a 2.17 GAA and .920 SVS.
“I just needed an opportunity,” Nedeljkovic said. “Going out there and having success and being able to play in tough situations and tough environments just kind of reinforced that confidence that I had in myself. I can’t really say enough good things about how this season played out.”
Nedeljkovic played with Dylan Larkin at Belle Tire, already has talked with Wings goaltender Thomas Greiss, and will soon begin getting ready for the upcoming season in earnest.
All the while, living in the home he and his wife have shared.
“My family’s in Cleveland (suburban Parma), her family’s in Hamilton (Canada), so it’ll be that much closer, see everybody a little more often," Nedeljkovic said.
Even their dog Zeke, a black Lab who was excited on the Zoom call, is pleased.
“He is very happy with the trade,” Nedeljkovic said. “You could probably see there. He’s pretty needy. Me being home for the whole year now is going to be pretty exciting for him.”
Rasmussen confident, pleased
Forward Michael Rasmussen, also a restricted free agent, was signed Thursday to a three-year contract worth $4.38 million ($1.46 million cap hit).
Rasmussen, also on a media Zoom call Thursday, was excited to get the deal done and concentrate on next season.
"I'm excited, happy to be able to get it done," Rasmussen said. "Just put that behind me and just keep working and getting ready for the season and just focus on hockey and keep getting better."
Rasmussen, 22, took a big step forward in his career, playing 40 games and scoring 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in his first extended time with the Wings.
Rasmussen improved his two-way game, was physical, and is becoming an effective net-front presence.
"I was pleased for sure, it was a big year for me," Rasmussen said. "I had good people around me in Grand Rapids to start the year, who supported me and had a plan for me, and once I got to Detroit, I tried to be myself and contribute and play my game and play with confidence and hard, and it was definitely a positive for me.
"It was a good stepping stone and something I can build off and keep working and improving.
"It made me real hungry to get better. I took a lot from it."