In the span of eight days this summer there were six goaltending moves involving the Carolina Hurricanes.
All of them, in a sense, affected goalie Alex Nedeljkovic and where he might play this season.
To quickly recap:
The Canes traded for goalie Anton Forsberg on June 24 in the deal that sent defenseman Calvin de Haan to the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Canes re-signed Nedeljkovic to a two-year contract on June 28.
Carolina traded for James Reimer in the June 30 deal with the Florida Panthers in which goalie Scott Darling went to Florida.
Nedeljkovic’s reaction to that flurry of goaltending activity?
“You see it, everybody sees it but I try not to look too deep into it, just focus on myself,” Nedeljkovic said Saturday in an N&O interview. “It’s the same with any situation, whether it’s two new guys here or me coming in by myself. You’ve got to find that compete inside you, that drive inside you, to get better.”
Nedeljkovic, 23, said general manager Don Waddell’s job was to put the best team on the ice, adding, “If that’s bringing in other guys that are doing better than me, then obviously I’ve got some work to do. But the only thing I can do is worry about myself. That’s what’s going to get me to the next level.”
For Nedeljkovic, named the American Hockey League goaltender of the year in 2018-19, the “next level” would likely mean Mrazek’s backup with the Canes this season. There were six goalies in training camp before Callum Booth and Jeremy Helvig were reassigned Saturday to the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ AHL affiliate.
It’s now three for one: Nedeljkovic, Reimer and Forsberg competing for that second position on the roster. But Nedeljkovic has a two-way contract this season (one-way in 2020-21) and is waiver exempt. Reimer and Forsberg have NHL contracts, Reimer drawing a $3.1 million salary and Forsberg being awarded a one-year, one-way deal after he filed for arbitration following the trade from Chicago.
Nedeljkovic wins the Calder Cup
When practice was held Monday, Mrazek and Reimer were with the more veteran group. Nedeljkovic and Forsberg were with the second group, with a primary camp roster cut down still to be announced.
Reimer appeared in 36 games for the Panthers last year while Forsberg was with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL after playing in a career-high 35 games for Chicago in 2017-18.
Nedeljkovic, a second-round draft pick by Carolina in 2014, had one game for the Canes, making his first NHL start in the Jan. 23 game at Vancouver and earning his first NHL victory with 24 saves as the Canes won 5-2. The Canes had lost three of four games, the victory allowed them to go into the NHL All-Star break on an uptick.
“Really special,” Nedeljkovic said of the game. “My parents were in town and it was a dream come true, to be able to make it to that level and win that first start.”
Another special game was to come in early June. The Charlotte Checkers beat the Chicago Wolves to clinch the AHL’s Calder Cup. That ended a dream season for the Checkers, team owner Michael Kahn and Nedeljkovic, who had a 34-9-5 record in the regular season and was 10-4 in the postseason.
Nedeljkovic, called “Ned” by teammates and coaches, doesn’t recall much about the aftermath of that clinching game, that moment. He said, with a smile, that it was as if he blacked out from the excitement.
“Just jumping around, screaming and yelling,” he said. “I do remember the one big roar when we got to see Mr. Kahn raise that Cup over his head.”
Much like the Stanley Cup, the Calder Cup later is passed around from player to player to have their “day” with the cup. Nedeljkovic, from Parma, Ohio, said he low-keyed it, taking the cup to downtown Cleveland for a few photos with family, then on to a pool party.
Come September, Nedeljkovic hopped behind the wheel of his F-150 and headed south, putting in the miles and jumping into the logjam at the position.
Brind’amour feels good about goaltending
Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Saturday morning that he felt “really good” about the goaltending after more than a week of camp.
“I like all of them,” he said. “I think it’s certainly different from last year, coming into this situation, so I feel way better.”
The Canes suffered a 3-2 preseason loss Saturday night in Washington, in a game Brind’Amour called disgusting. Forsberg, the starter, allowed two goals on 10 shots and Reimer one goal on 10 as they split up the game.
Nedeljkovic’s only preseason appearance was Wednesday against Tampa Bay. Coming in midway through the second period after Mrazek started, he stopped all 15 shots to complete the 2-0 shutout.
Being a good goalie calls for sound technique and quick instincts but also mental toughness. For the past few years, Nedeljkovic has consulted with Dr. Saul Miller, a mental coach who has worked with other pro athletes and is the author of “Hockey Tough: A Winning Mental Game.”
“Every year I feel like I’m mentally stronger, mentally tougher,” Nedeljkovic said. “I can get over a bad night. I don’t turn one bad night into two and two doesn’t go into three.
“If you have a bad night, shake it off, try to refocus and get back to being consistent. It so easy for things to go south or go sideways on you. You have to come to the rink and it’s a new day, a fresh start.”