Q&A: Alex Nedeljkovic on his journey to the NHL, keys to goalie goals

Alex Nedeljkovic
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Carolina Hurricanes. Blackhawks-Hurricanes stream coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

One of the keys to the Hurricanes’ success this season has been the strength of their goaltending. Between Alex Nedeljkovic, Petr Mrazek, and James Reimer, the trio have helped Carolina to the NHL’s second-best 5-on-5 save percentage (.934, per Natural Stat Trick).

Nedeljkovic has been a nice surprise to come out of Mrazek’s extended absence due to injury. The 25-year-old goaltender had only appeared in six NHL games since being drafted No. 37 overall in 2014. He’s spent time in the ECHL and AHL during his journey, but when the door opened in early February, the Parma, Ohio native has taken advantage.

After helping the Canes’ AHL affiliate in Charlotte to the 2019 Calder Cup title, Nedeljkovic is now assisting Carolina to owning the league’s best points percentage (.742) through 33 games.  He’s made 12 starts, helped his team to eight wins, has two shutouts, and a .937 even strength save percentage.

The two shutouts were sweet in their own separate ways. The first came against their Central Division rivals in the Lightning. The second came in his home state of Ohio against the Blue Jackets, with the added bonus of getting to see some friends and family afterward.


The transition from a life in the minors to regular time in the NHL could not have gone better so far.

“It’s been pretty smooth this year,” Nedeljkovic told NBC Sports last week. “Those first few games were maybe a little rusty. You can throw that up to maybe not playing a game in a year. … It’s easy when you’ve got the group of guys that we have here in front of you. It’s fun. We’re doing really well right now. We’ve got high expectations amongst ourselves and it’s going to be an exciting finish to the season.”

We chatted with Nedeljkovic about his recent run of form, his journey to the NHL, and keys for goalies when attempting to score a goal.


Q. When you’re on this kind of run, does the game seem to slow down?

NEDELJKOVIC: “Yeah, absolutely. It’s a completely different game than in the minors. Guys are smart, so you don’t see too many major, major breakdowns. Pucks take a bad bounce here and there, and mistakes happen, but for the most part guys are in the right spot. Even if there is a little bit of a breakdown, there’s always somebody there to back someone up and to help bail them out.”

Q. You’ve had quite a journey to get to this point. Seven years after being drafted you’re getting a regular, deserved run in the NHL. What kept you focused and motivated as you were down in the A and the ECHL for a bit?

NEDELJKOVIC: “I think it’s just just hoping that opportunity would come and understanding that I’m playing a game for a living right now. That’s not going to last forever, so might as well try to make the most of it at whatever level that is. There’s a lot of guys that spend their whole career playing in the American [Hockey] League or overseas that never get to live their dream playing in the NHL and have long careers in the NHL. But, in saying that, to have a long career playing professional hockey, there’s nothing wrong with that at all. That’s something that not a lot of people can say that they do.

“Like I said, at the end of the day it’s a game, so the longest that I can ride it out and play and play at a high level, I’m going to do that and try to enjoy it as much as I can.”

Q. Knowing goaltending coach Paul Schonfelder since your time with Charlotte, what are some of the techniques he’s used that have improved our game?

NEDELJKOVIC: “I don’t think there’s been too many things technically that Paul came in and we switched around. The biggest thing with Paul has been the consistency and pointing things out and focusing on things that we’re letting slip a little bit, like whether it be rebound control or getting an extra few inches or getting some good depth or my angles are off or post play is no good. We’ve kind of been through it all it seems like. Just having him around and him consistently wanting to help me get better and wanting to watch me improve. He’s invested in me and you can’t ask for much more than that out of a coach or anybody.”

Q. What are you picking up from Petr and James being around them on a daily basis?

NEDELJKOVIC: “The biggest thing is the consistency in which they do things. Everybody’s got their own routine, everybody’s different in a certain way. But what works for you, that’s what’s gotten everybody to this point and it’s what made them successful. The only reason they’ve been successful and gotten here is because they’ve done it every single day. It’s not something you can turn on and turn off and expect the same results. You have to be committed to doing the things that make you successful no matter how long or boring they may get sometimes. That’s what you have to do. As an athlete that’s our job, is to make sure that we’re ready to go every day.”

Q. You’ve scored goals in the ECHL and AHL, and almost had a third. Have you had any opportunities to take a shot in the NHL yet, or come close?

NEDELJKOVIC: “Nope. Haven’t had one shot yet. It’s been kind of disappointing because we’ve had some opportunities in some games here where they’ve had the goalie pulled. But guys at this level are smart. You don’t want to give up possession of the puck. When you have it, it’s tough to get it back. Guys really aren’t that eager to give it away, especially now when teams are starting to realize how much I play the puck. They’re not overly eager to just go and dump it in or shoot it on me knowing that I’m probably going to move it. We’ll see what happens. Hopefully I’ll get plenty of chances to do it because it was awesome to do it the first two times.”

Q. Does that enter your mind when you see a team empty their net? Are you thinking, OK, net’s empty, if I get time and get the puck cleanly I’ll take my shot?

NEDELJKOVIC: “Yeah, probably creeps in a little earlier than that, honestly. I’ve caught myself a few times after we score a goal in the first period and we’re up 1-0 or 2-0, I’m like ‘All right, tonight’s the night, I’m going to score.’ We still have to play two more periods. Sometimes I get a little carried away, a little excited about it.

“It creeps in, but at the end of the day I’m trying to make the right play and you can’t force it. Those two times that I scored — one in Florida, they dumped it in from the red line, there was no pressure. It was all in one motion: in my glove, on the ice, and down the ice it went. The second time, as well, it was a soft dump from center ice. Really, there was no pressure at all. I was out above the goal line, too, again, so I didn’t have to do a lot of moving around and manuevering to set it up right. It was just kind of stop the puck and shoot it back down. 

“Like I said, you can’t force that, especially in a tight game where if they’re pulling their goalie, they’re probably only within one or two goals. One mistake could cost you.”


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

“That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

“It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

“It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

“We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.


The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).


Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

“We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.