Red Wings' Alex Nedeljkovic relishes return to playoffs

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Alex Nedeljkovic has been at Little Caesars Arena working out the last few days, getting ready for the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships later this month in Finland.

The Red Wings' goaltender will be playing for Team USA and is happy to be competing in the prestigious tournament.

"To be able to play some meaningful hockey, a little more hockey, it's always what you want to do," Nedeljkovic said. "I always want to play meaningful games."

But, obviously, part of the reason Nedeljkovic is able to play in the world championships is that the Wings aren't in the NHL playoffs.

For Nedeljkovic, who was the starting goaltender for Carolina last season in the playoffs, it's a difficult thing to accept. Nedeljkovic experienced the NHL playoffs, the excitement of them, and doesn't want to miss them again.

Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic  will play for Team USA in the world championships later this month.

Nedeljkovic spoke passionately during Tuesday's end-of-season media availability about the need for his Wings teammates to strive to return to the postseason.

Anything less is unacceptable.

"Missing the playoffs is disappointing; there's no other way to put it — it sucks," Nedeljkovic said. "Playoffs started Monday and you're sitting on the couch, and everybody is tweeting about it and talking about it and it's all over television and you can't miss it. It's there and just staring at you straight in the face.

"And we're not part of it."

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Being a part of the Hurricanes team that went into the second round before losing to Tampa Bay, the eventual Stanley Cup champion, was a memorable experience for Nedeljkovic.

"It was everything I thought that playoff hockey would be at this level," Nedeljkovic said. "It just makes for a long summer (when you miss it) and you have to find a way to use it as motivation.

"(Dylan Larkin) said it (Tuesday), it's been a long time since they made the playoffs and since they've had success here. You don't want to drag it on. You never know when your last game will be, under what circumstances it'll be, and you have to take advantage of it. 

"We are where we are as an organization and team, but as players, we can't just accept that."

Nedeljkovic doesn't believe the Wings' rebuild and the difficulties that process presents should be any sort of excuse for players on the roster.

"It doesn't make sense to say we're in a rebuild, we're not going to make the playoffs this year, we're not expected to make the playoffs next year. It is what it is and let's get through the season," Nedeljkovic said. "That's a terrible outlook and nobody should have that kind of outlook — and to be honest with you, if anybody in that locker room has that kind of outlook, I don't have time for you.

"I'm here to win a Stanley Cup. My goal is to win a Stanley Cup every year and at a smaller level, to win every single night. If you don't have that same mindset and goal, you're not really helping this team and not helping yourself.

"It's not what you need; you need guys in that room who want to do it every night, and we have guys who want to do it every night and want to succeed and not waste their career away trying to rebuild and things like that."

Raymond overcomes NHL grind

Rookie forward Lucas Raymond had never played so many games in a hockey season, never faced so much travel, or encountered a similar mental or physical grind associated with a hockey season.

But Raymond did it to the tune of a 23-goal season while playing all 82 games, as well as likely being a finalist for the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year with teammate Moritz Seider.

It was a challenge, one Raymond felt he overcame.

"For sure, an 82-game season (is hard) and especially not used to traveling to different time zones," Raymond said Wednesday during an end-of-season media conference. "But I felt pretty good. Traveling is, I wouldn't say easy, but it's very comfortable for us.

"We get great help all around with the trainers and making sure we're prepared. I felt good. It's more mental than physical, able to really try to be there every game and be on it."

Still, the grind of the season forced Raymond to decline an invitation to play for Sweden at the world championships in Finland.

"It was a tough decision. You always want to play for your national team, especially a tournament that big," Raymond said. "But the decision came down to I didn't have much left in the tank and had to think about having a good summer here and be prepared for next year."

Raymond, 20, didn't enjoy the losing, but everything else about the NHL was "fun."

"I really enjoyed it, we had a great team that made it real easy for me to come in, and that helped a lot," Raymond said. "Coming into training camp, I didn't expect much. I just had the mindset to try to make the team and when I did that, it was just about going forward and performing on the ice."

Thankful of Blashill

Ben Simon, the coach of minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids, spoke glowingly of former Wings coach Jeff Blashill, who the Wings announced Saturday would not be retained after seven seasons.

Simon talked of how Blashill was inclusive of Simon and the Griffins coaching staff, and the support Blashill consistently provided.

“I learned a lot about coaching from Jeff throughout the years,” Simon said. “What I learned that’s way more important is just how he treated people. He’s a fantastic human being, and he treats people whether you’re the janitor, whether you’re the head coach of another NHL team coming in, whether you’re a minor-league coach, he treats you with the utmost respect, makes you feel like you belong.

“He’s had a lot of success at every level that he’s been at. I have a lot of time for Jeff and a lot of appreciation for what he’s done for me and my career, my family, and I have no doubt that he’s going to land on his feet. He and (Blashill's wife) Erica and the kids are just fantastic people.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan