After missing the postseason for the first time in sixteen years, it was obvious this Penguins roster was destined for change. While making a splash to acquire reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, the Penguins also finally moved on from the Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith goaltending tandem.
After extending Tristan Jarry earlier in the offseason, it looked like Penguins management was comfortable running it back. However, after completing a three team trade with Montreal and San Jose, Casey DeSmith is on his way to the Canadiens. The 31-year-old goaltender was a serviceable backup for Pittsburgh, but the fit, along with Tristan Jarry’s injury history, wasn’t working.
With Casey DeSmith now in Montreal, all eyes turn to recently signed goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic. Now after Kyle Dubas signed a plethora of depth goaltenders this offseason, Alex Nedeljkovic will have to earn the backup position, but he’s the early favorite to replace Casey DeSmith.
The question now is, is Alex an upgrade for the Penguins? Honestly, it’s a tough question to answer because, based on last season’s numbers, no, it’s not. However, the upside in Alex Nedeljkovic is higher than what the Penguins had in Casey DeSmith. Alex Nedeljkovic was drafted in the second round by the Hurricanes in 2014 and developed into a key player for Carolina in 2020-21. Despite showing some flashes at the National Hockey League level, The Canes surprisingly opted not to sign Alex Nedeljkovic, which led to the goaltender being traded to Detroit.
At the time, it was an interesting move, but looking back now, it certainly paid off for Carolina. There’s no debating the Hurricanes do a great job insulating their goaltenders, but at the same time, it must be taken into consideration that the Detroit Red Wings aren’t all that great at defending. In my eyes, I think with the group here in Pittsburgh, that alone should help Alex Nedeljkovic find at least some of his form.
Now I’m not saying the Pittsburgh Penguins are the best defensive team in hockey, but I think you’re going to see Alex Nedeljkovic’s numbers improve at least a bit, given the structure of this group. It’s also important to mention that he won’t be relied upon as the team’s starting goaltender, which could benefit his game by taking some of the pressure off.
After scouting Alex Nedeljkovic, it’s clear he’s got all the talent needed to become a full-time National Hockey League goaltender. However, he lacks consistency. I must say Alex Nedeljkovic has strong edgework when in the crease and isn’t afraid to make acrobatic saves when needed. The downside with Alex Nedeljkovic is he struggles with low-danger shots, which is the opposite of Casey DeSmith.
Usually, with a backup goaltender, you’d prefer someone who plays more of a Casey DeSmith kind of game, but given Tristan Jarry’s injury history, a player of Alex Nedeljkovic’s caliber might be a better fit for this group. As we saw with Casey DeSmith, the Penguins couldn’t rely on him as a long-term starter. He was a solid backup but nothing more. The Penguins needed a goaltender who could play an extended amount in case of a Tristan Jarry injury, and Alex Nedeljkovic has the skills to be able to do that.
It’s definitely a risky bet, especially after what we saw in Detroit, but as mentioned earlier, it’s important to consider the overall situation of the team. I think in a more competitive environment, with a better-structured team, you’ll see a lot more of the Alex Nedeljkovic we saw in Carolina. I don’t expect the 27-year-old to rebound back to that exact form, but I’m optimistic Alex will find his game. If Alex Nedeljkovic can find that confidence, play at the top of his crease, and control his rebounds, this could be a fantastic addition.
This year’s Penguins training camp will be exciting for many reasons, but I don’t know if there will be a better battle for a roster spot than at the goaltending position. Alex Nedeljkovic is the early favorite, but with all the new names brought in this offseason, anything can happen.
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