The 6’ – 190 pound Plymouth Whalers’ goaltender is a native of Parma Ohio and is entering his second Ontario Hockey League Season. He was a 6th round pick – 120th overall – by the Whalers in the 2012 OHL Priority Draft. With veteran Matt Mahalak returning, no one expected Nedeljkovic would be taking the reins and running with them.
He took over the number one role for good in February and never looked back. Nedeljkovic finished the season appearing in 26 games with a 19-2-2 record. He compiled 2.28 goals against average and a .923 save percentage while posting 2 shutouts. He earned the Dinty Moore Trophy, given to the rookie goaltender with the best goals against average. He was also named to the OHL’s first rookie team.
He started all but one playoff game for the Whalers and finished with a 9-4-1 record, losing out to eventual League Champions the London Knights in overtime. He finished the playoffs with 1 shutout and 2.71 goals against average and .908 save percentage.
His superb rookie season earned him a spot on Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament where he led the Americans to a silver medal. He finished the tournament with a 2.99 goals against average and .897 save percentage.
Nedeljkovic will also take part in the All-American Prospects game on September 26 in Pittsburgh PA. The second annual game will have 40 of the top American players eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft and is similar to the CHL – Home Hardware Top Prospects Game.
Nedeljkovic played his Midget hockey for Belle Tire under 16 where he posted 1.88 goals against average and .903 save percentage in 18 games. In four playoff appearances he finished with 2.50 goals against average and .915 save percentage.
Nedeljkovic is mentally strong and mature beyond his years and it came to the forefront during his rookie season. He isn’t a typical butterfly goaltender – more of a do whatever it takes to stop the puck. He challenges shooters very well and has good rebound control, he absorbs shots and is almost always in position for the second save. He’s more of a technical goalie with superb athleticism.
Whalers goaltending coach Stan Matwiji, who also runs Bandits Goaltending School, spoke with us exclusively about Nedeljkovic. “I don't think you ever expect a 16 year old goalie to ever develop as quickly as Alex did last year. He worked very hard at his game all season and deserved the opportunity that he was given” said Matwiji.
When asked to describe Nedeljkovic’s style the coach responded “Alex plays a hybrid style, this means that he reacts and makes save, he'll seal and block when he needs to and he's also very athletic which makes him pretty complete. He'll use any and all the above to make a save depending on what situation presents itself.”
We asked Matwiji about his student’s greatest strength and an area that needs improving and he responded candidly: “Aforementioned, Alex is a pretty complete player but the one thing that stands out is his hockey sense. He reads the game extremely well and always stays one step ahead. Conversely, just like any young net minder at 17 he needs to work on his physical strength and this will come with his continued hard work and moreover his age.”
Comparing players in this group to NHL players is something I personally try and avoid, but I did pose the question to the coach who replied “Alex's game is very simple with not a lot of excess movement so with that being said, I would compare him with the likes of a Cam Ward/ Ryan Miller.”
Nedeljkovic came into the season as our number one ranked goaltender from the OHL for the 2014 NHL draft, and there is nothing to suggest it won’t be a position he holds until next June.