The Red Wings are sending Alex Nedeljkovic to Grand Rapids, in hopes of getting the best out of him in Detroit. The club assigned its former starting goalie to the AHL on Wednesday for a conditioning stint as he tries to find his game after having spent most of this season on the bench.
Nedeljkovic, who hasn't played in nearly a month and whose contract expires after this season, will see plenty of action with the Griffins, who open a six-game homestand Wednesday night.
"We haven’t given up on Ned," Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde said Wednesday morning. "I don’t have any problem saying that. We like to keep things private when we discuss players in the big picture, but we have not given up on Ned. We want to see him hopefully get his game in order and kind of reevaluate it form there."
Nedeljkovic was expected to share Detroit's net this season with newcomer Ville Husso. But between his own slow start and Husso's strong play, he's been forced out of the picture. He has a save percentage of .880 and a goals against average of 4.09 in nine games. His last appearance came in a 5-1 loss to the Panthers on Dec. 8 and he's since been passed by Magnus Hellberg as Husso's backup.
So it's down to Grand Rapids for Nedeljkovic, who needs reps to find his old form and eventually help the Wings this season. If he can't, it might spell the end of his time in Detroit.
"It’s an opportunity to get some minutes and hopefully get some rhythm and get his game in order," said Lalonde, a former goalie himself. "It’s an important position for us. If we want to continue to have success, we need to get some wins out of that position and this is part of the process."
Nedeljkovic played in 59 games for Detroit last season, and stole a handful of wins. He was strong in the first half, but stumbled down the stretch, finishing with a save percentage of .901 and a goals against average of 3.31. Entering this season, the 26-year-old was eager to team up with Husso and form one of the better goaltending tandems in the NHL. Only half of the tandem has been up to the task.
But if Nedeljkovic can recover his game in Grand Rapids, it's not to late to bring his vision to life. Lalonde said he and goaltending coach Alex Westlund explained the purpose of the demotion to Nedeljkovic and "he was good with it."
"So I’d be surprised if he doesn’t see it as (an opportunity), and he’ll get his first opportunity tonight," said Lalonde.
As for forward Jakub Vrana, who was placed on waivers by the Red Wings Tuesday and can be claimed by any team until 2 p.m. Wednesday, Lalonde said he and GM Steve Yzerman "talked about it thoroughly" and are "on the same page."
The Wings had to clear a roster spot to activate Robby Fabbri, who's set to make his season debut Wednesday night after recovering from a torn ACL, and Lalonde said, "Ultimately, that's what we came up with."
"Really don’t want to go into the details of it, especially with the situation of where Jakub is and his coming back. Want it to be private and personal to him."
Vrana, 26, recently spent two months in the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program to treat an off-ice issue and was assigned to Grand Rapids last week for a conditioning stint himself.
"He's played three games in Grand Rapids so far and he’s in the process of getting his game in order, hopefully to where he was," said Lalonde. "I can’t project where he’s going to be for us or anywhere else in time."