Fun fact: Dylan Larkin and Alex Nedeljkovic were teammates on Belle Tire 16U AAA back in 2011-12.
Larkin was the captain of that team, too. Way back when they were both Metro Detroit teens with big hockey aspirations. Larkin had 20 points in 20 games that season while Nedeljkovic posted a .903 save percentage through 18 games played.
The stats are according to the wonderful Elite Prospects database.
Yzerman trades for goalie
Of course, the true rink-rats among us may recognize Nedeljkovic’s name from his time spent with the Plymouth Whalers. It was at Compuware Arena where he first made a name for himself with a .925 save percentage through 61 games with the Whalers in 2013-14. He was then drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes, 37th overall in 2014.
Nedeljkovic, 25, was a Calder Trophy finalist this past season with 15 wins in 23 games (15-3-1) and a .932 save percentage. He also posted a 4-3-2 record in nine playoff games with a .920 save percentage. It was a nice breakout year in the NHL for him, and perhaps this breakout was delayed a year. Nedeljkovic was named the AHL’s top goaltender for 2018-19 when he went 34-9-5 with the Charlotte Checkers. He helped the Checkers win the AHL’s Calder Cup that year. But then he struggled to get starts in Carolina until this season.
He became a restricted free agent at the end of the season. In steps Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman who is now signing him to a two-year contract with a $3 million average annual value, or $3 million against the cap, according to Nedeljkovic’s agent.
That’s after a rather stunning trade that sends goalie Jonathan Bernier and a 3rd-round pick (first acquired in the Tomas Tatar trade to Vegas in 2018) from this year’s draft to Carolina in exchange for “Ned.”
The trade reaction
Initial reactions were that Yzerman did it again: He somehow talked Carolina GM Don Waddell into taking Bernier, a 32-year-old unrestricted free agent, and a 3rd-round pick (94th overall, in fact) for a young, rising goalie with loads of a potential. And he did it with a low-risk contract at just two years, $3 million a year, despite how Nedeljkovic reportedly sought more money with Carolina. Yzerman has his ways, right? The man, the myth, the legend ...
Well, he certainly has his way of identifying a team’s situation or problem and stepping in to help out. Yzerman saw Carolina in a bit of goalie situation -- too many cooks in the kitchen and not one is the goalie the team actually wants. The Athletic’s Sara Civian did a nice job of pointing out how this isn’t exactly the “end” of this trade. Waddell said the Hurricanes have their sights on a veteran goalie who can help them “win now.”
“GM Don Waddell tells me the Canes traded Nedeljkovic with their sights on a veteran goalie ... Some folks seem to be misinterpreting this tweet as Bernier being the veteran in mind. That is not true.” -- @SaraCivian
And that makes a lot of sense, meaning Bernier may not be a Cane for too long, or perhaps UFA Petr Mrazek is on his way out. Or both? Carolina also has James Reimer as a UFA. Ha! -- Leafs legends Bernier and Reimer back together again. The bottom line is Carolina does not have a goalie under contract next season.
Free agency opens Wednesday, July 28.
So once again, Yzerman saw the opportunity to swoop in and make a deal that helps both clubs. It’s also why he gave such a coy answer to a question about what he gave Carolina for the young goalie:
“You’re going to have to ask them why they were comfortable doing that,” Yzerman said during a media briefing after the trade.
The real impressive part is getting Nedeljkovic at the cheaper, presumably shorter, term. The risk factor is low.
This is very exciting, yes. The Red Wings goaltending situation changed in an instance. We (not me) went from talking about how they might want to draft a goalie at 6th overall to celebrating the addition of a 25-year-old Calder Trophy finalist.
Nedeljkovic will now join Thomas Greiss as Detroit’s goalie tandem heading into this season, barring any more moves from Yzerman, of course. Greiss was Detroit’s only protected goalie in the Seattle expansion draft. He has one year left on his contract.
Time for Ned to reunite with Larkin -- maybe they can shoot pucks in the basement, or whatever.
Thank you to the @Canes and all you amazing Caniacs that have been so supportive! You guys are some of the best fans in the NHL without a doubt! Really excited to start this new chapter in my career with the @DetroitRedWings !!— Alex Nedeljkovic (@alexned_) July 22, 2021
Draft focus: Yzerman wants best player available
Speaking of the draft, Yzerman said they are 100% percent planning to select the best player available in the first round, no matter what position that is. That definitely leaves the door open for them picking goalie Jesper Wallstedt, but the Nedeljkovic acquisition would suggest they might not make that kind of pick right now. We shall see. There is a vocal group of Wallstedt supporters who suggest he is the best player available at 6th overall.
Regardless, Yzerman loves to downplay his preparation for the draft, per usual. He wouldn’t rule out trading up as he described such a move as a decision that could be made during the draft based on what other teams do.
One thing he was clear about on Thursday was how he wants the current Red Wings to be competitive with strong additions who can help his young players develop. He wants to see the team improve, and he’s willing to start using some of his accumulated drafts picks to make the lineup stronger -- as he did in the Nick Leddy and Nedeljkovic trades.
“We’re trying to surround our younger players with good players to help them develop -- a good partner for Fil Hronek, strong goaltending, some forwards that can complement Dylan and all of our guys,” Yzerman said.
He emphasized “having good players for the young guys to play with.” It’s pretty clear he’s not finished -- the Wings are nearly $40 million under the cap.
You can catch his full media briefing here.
Draft begins Friday night
Here’s where the Red Wings are set to pick. This could all change in the hours before the draft start time at 8 p.m. Friday.
1st-round draft order:
1. Buffalo Sabres
2. Seattle Kraken
3. Anaheim Ducks
4. New Jersey Devils
5. Columbus Blue Jackets
6. Detroit Red Wings
7. San Jose Sharks
8. Los Angeles Kings
9. Vancouver Canucks
10. Ottawa Senators
11. Arizona Coyotes -- this pick is forfeited (read why here)
12. Chicago Blackhawks
13. Calgary Flames
14. Philadelphia Flyers
15. Dallas Stars
16. New York Rangers
17. St. Louis Blues
18. Winnipeg Jets
19. Nashville Predators
20. Edmonton Oilers
21. Boston Bruins
22. Minnesota Wild
23. Detroit Red Wings (from Capitals)
24. Florida Panthers
25. Columbus Blue Jackets
26. Minnesota Wild
27. Carolina Hurricanes
28. Colorado Avalanche
29. New Jersey Devils
30. Vegas Golden Knights
31. Montreal Canadiens
32. Columbus Blue Jackets
2nd-round Red Wings picks:
38. Detroit Red Wings
48. Detroit Red Wings (from Rangers)
3rd-round Red Wings picks:
70. Detroit Red Wings
4th-round Red Wings picks:
102. Detroit Red Wings
128. Detroit Red Wings (from Lightning)
5th-round Red Wings picks:
134. Detroit Red Wings
138. Detroit Red Wings (from Senators/Canadiens)
6th-round Red Wings picks:
166. Detroit Red Wings
7th-round Red Wings picks:
Michigan’s Owen Power expected to go 1st overall to Buffalo
It appears the Buffalo Sabres will take Michigan Wolverines defenseman Owen Power at 1st overall in the draft Friday night. He is joined by Wolverines forwards Ken Johnson, ranked third among North American skaters, and sixth-ranked Matthew Beniers. They could make Michigan the first college hockey program to have three players selected in the first round -- wow!
Read more here: Sabres to open NHL draft featuring Michigan, mystery, Kraken
Also important news from Thursday: Michael Rasmussen has signed a three-year contract extension. The 22-year-old center became a restricted free agent at the end of the 2020-21 season. The extension was announced Thursday but financial details of the contract were not immediately revealed.
Rasmussen was drafted 9th overall in 2017 and has played 102 games with the Red Wings since 2018. In 40 games played this past season he scored 3 goals and 9 assists. He showed a massive improvement through those 40 games despite the team’s lackluster play overall.
Rasmussen appears to be ready to take the next step as a center in the NHL. He averaged a career high 14:48 of ice time as he slotted into the Detroit lineup as third- or fourth-line center, and at times higher up the lineup. His faceoff win percentage improved to 44.4%. He is expected to fill this role for the Red Wings come October.
Rasmussen was loaned to Graz EC in the Austrian league for part of the 2020-21 season. With Graz he score 16 points in 18 games.
At the time of this announcement, Rasmussen was one of a small list Red Wings players under contract beyond the 2022-23 season. This is a significant commitment from Yzerman who hasn’t been handing out many contracts with terms longer than a season or two.
Yzerman has signed key prospects to three-year, entry-level deals such as Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond, Albert Johansson and Joe Veleno.
NHL schedule released, divisions back to ‘normal’
The Red Wings will be back in the Atlantic Division for the 2021-22 season as the league returns to “normal” -- the way the divisions were in 2019-20 before the pandemic forced changes.
I say “normal” because there will be a slight change in the Pacific and Central divisions: The new Seattle Kraken will join the Pacific Division and push the Arizona Coyotes to the Central Division beginning next season. This is not a popular move among Coyotes fans. They have a lot not going their way lately.
Here’s the Red Wings schedule:
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