Alex Nedeljkovic’s rookie season is already off to a strong start.
Manning the crease in the Checkers’ preseason tilt in Lehigh Valley this past Friday, the netminder turned aside 28 of the 29 shots he faced from the high-powered Phantoms and picked up the win.
Even though the game didn’t count in the standings, it was a good way for the young goalie to kick-start his time with the Checkers.
“It was good to get a full game under you in the preseason,” said Nedeljkovic. “It was good to just see what it’s like to play at this level. I got a couple periods in up there with Carolina so it was good to finally get a start here. Hopefully I’ll start the season off well.”
It was far from the beginning of Nedeljkovic’s offseason, though. The 20-year-old netminder has been at it for a while now.
He started with development camp in Carolina in July before backstopping the Canes prospects team to a championship at the Traverse City tournament in September. Nedeljkovic then got a long look at NHL training camp before joining Charlotte this past weekend.
All in all, it’s been quite the summer.
“It’s been long, but at the same time I think it’s been good,” said Nedeljkovic. “Going into camp I think I was firing on all cylinders. The Traverse City tournament helped get me prepared. It’s been a long month of skating but you’ve got eight more months and hopefully more come playoffs.”
The strides that Nedeljkovic has taken since the conclusions of his junior career has been noticeable.
“He seems like he’s growing every day,” said head coach Ulf Samuelsson. “The guys are seeing less and less net around him. He’s off to a really good start. Cujo [Hurricanes Goaltending Consultant Curtis Joseph] has done a great job with him, I’ve seen a big difference just over the past couple months.”
Nedeljkovic has been a highly touted prospect for Carolina since they selected him 37th overall in 2014, but he enters a situation in Charlotte where three netminders are competing for two spots.
Veteran Michael Leighton, signed over the summer, appears to be a lock for one of the spots, as he likely holds the number three spot in the organization, but the other slot is a tossup between Nedeljkovic and Daniel Altshuller.
Altshuller, heading into his third season as a pro, stormed onto the scene for Charlotte last year, starting his AHL career by going 9-1-1. He returns this season and will battle Nedeljkovic for a spot in the crease, with the other likely heading to the ECHL with the Florida Everblades.
Who goes where should be decided in the coming days.
“We have some talks lined up with [Carolina Assistant General Manager Mike] Vellucci and [Carolina General Manager Ron] Francis here today and tomorrow, so I’m sure it’ll be a clearer picture in the next couple of days,” said Samuelsson.
However the situation plays out, Nedeljkovic is ready to jump into his rookie year and make a splash.
“I’m just trying to show that I’m ready for this level and I can stick around here,” said Nedeljkovic. “Either way, whether it’s me or Altsy who stays, we’re going to do a good job of pushing each other. I think that’s the best. Competition brings out the best of both of us. You just have to prove that you’re ready to be here full time and do what you can to make the most of your opportunities.”