Alex Nedeljkovic’s starting point coming out of the 2015-16 season
Alex Nedeljkovic finished out his junior career with a season split between two different cities. He started out the year playing for the Flint Firebirds but was traded later in the season to the Niagara Icedogs for a possible shot at the OHL Championship. Nedeljkovic and the Icedogs would make it all the way to the OHL finals before being swept by the Mitch Marner-lead London Knights for the title. For the 2015-16 season as a whole, Nedeljkovic would finish 24-20-4, with a 2.91 GAA, and .907 save percentage. He also starred for Team USA in the 2016 World Junior Championships as he helped lead the team to a Bronze medal with a 1.66 GAA and .943 save percentage in seven games.
Alex Nedeljkovic: 2016-17 with the Charlotte Checkers
First half of 2016-17: Coming in with high expectations from his World Junior performance, Nedeljkovic did not have the start to the season that he or anyone else wanted. He was shelled in his first game as Checker, allowing four goals on 21 shots in just the first period alone. He would not see the ice after the first period, and the challenges did not end that night. Nedeljkovic would lose four out of his first five starts. He was had significant trouble corralling in long shots and allowed big rebound opportunities in front of the net because of it. He seemed to lack confidence in his ability and he was maybe also having trouble adjusting to the lower shot total in the pro game from the junior game where he would face more shots. In his first 16 starts, Nedeljkovic only registered three wins and the starting goaltender job was won by veteran Michael Leighton.
Second half of 2016-17: After being sent down to the Florida Everblades for a couple of games, Nedeljkovic was called back up to Charlotte on January 12th. Just five days later Nedeljkovic would be called up to the Hurricanes to back-up Cam Ward for one game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Fittingly Ward would be pulled after giving up his fourth goal and Nedeljkovic would enter the game. He would stop all 17 shots that were directed his way and the game would finish 4-1. In his last eight starts with the Checkers he would put up a much better 5-2-1 record with .900 save percentage and 3.14 GAA average. He would clean up his rebound trouble some, but it was it was not something that he was totally able to resolve during the season. His NHL callup and performance did provide him with more confidence than he had compared to when the season started, but again it was not something that he was able to totally resolve with the Checkers by seasons end. A March 5th loss to the Bakersfield Condors would be Nedeljkovic’s last game in Charlotte for the season. He spent the rest of the year with the Everblades. He would get a chance to play in the postseason with Florida putting up a .930 save percentage and 1.92 GAA in seven games.
Areas for improvement
Rebound control is the most important thing for Nedeljkovic right now. Most people knock his size when they talk about the cons to his game, but I do not think his problem is his size at all. He can move laterally across the net quite quickly to cover the net. Right now, it is less of an issue of net coverage and more an issue of confidence. Can he eventually fix the rebound struggles he had this past season? Absolutely. But will he let memories and challenges of a difficult season after high expectations affect his mentality going forward?
Path to the NHL for Alex Nedeljkovic
Goalies can take notoriously longer than regular players when it comes to development. Because of this, Nedeljkovic most likely needs a season or two more in the AHL before he is ready to attempt the full-time jump to the NHL. Canes fans need not worry about his development, especially with the acquisition of Scott Darling to buy time at the NHL level. Patience is the key with Nedeljkovic because if he is forced into a situation before he is ready his development could be permanently ruined. I see Nedeljkovic becoming a starting NHL goaltender in the future but probably multiple years out.