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Carolina Hurricanes top 25 under 25 #10: Alex Nedeljkovic

The Hurricanes’ top goalie prospect squeaks in to the top 10 going in to his most pivotal year yet.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

At one point the Carolina Hurricanes had hoped Alex Nedeljkovic would be the goalie of the future for the organization and that he would one day take over the reigns for Cam Ward in net. As we all know, that hasn’t exactly happened for the former second-round pick has been stuck in the AHL since 2016. Despite having done basically everything he can do in hockey’s second best league, there still remains no clear path for him for make it in the NHL with the Hurricanes.

Nedeljkovic has shown flashes of greatness during his time in juniors and the AHL. In 2018-2019, he led the Checkers to their first ever Calder Cup trophy, posting a 34-14-1 record with a 2.26 GAA and .916 SV%. He was named the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award winner as the AHL’s most outstanding goaltender for the 18-19 season. Nedeljkovic also won his first NHL start for the Hurricanes that year when he defeated the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 23, 2019.

His success in the 18-19 season earned him a two-year contract extension with the second year being one-way. When both Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney tested free agency during the summer of 2019, many speculated the Hurricanes would only sign one goalie and let Nedeljkovic be the back up. Then the Canes re-signed Mrazek and traded for James Reimer, effectively sealing Nedeljkovic’s fate in the AHL for at least one more season.

2019-2020 was not as friendly for Nedeljkovic as the year before had been. The magic of the Calder Cup run wore off and he posted a 16-10-2 record with a 2.49 GAA and .906 save percentage, splitting time with Anton Forsberg as the starter in Charlotte.

Then, late in the season, both Mrazek and Reimer got hurt, paving the way for both Forsberg and Nedeljkovic to be recalled. It was a perfect opportunity for Nedeljkovic to come in show the coaching staff his NHL abilities did not go so well as he went just 1-2-1 with a 3.05 GAA and .887 SV%. While this certainly wasn’t all on Nedeljkovic as the entire team was riddled with injuries, his performance did little to give the Hurricanes’ staff and fans a reason to believe he was the goalie of the future.

The 2020-21 season may be the final make-it-or-break-it season for Nedeljkovic as he is on a one-way contract and will likely travel with the Hurricanes as a member of their taxi squad. If there was ever a time for him to impress the coaching staff and force them to play him, it will be this season. He will still be an RFA after the season so the Hurricanes will remain in control of how they want to play out the next few years for Nedeljkovic, but with other goalies coming up the pipeline, it may be getting close to a breaking point with their top goalie prospect.

Can Nedeljkovic break through like Haydn Fleury has finally done and go on to be the next Cam Ward or is he simply another lifelong AHL guy like Justin Peters? That is the question that still remains to be answered and that answer may be coming sooner rather than later at this point.