Nedeljkovic Becomes First Flint Firebird to Make NHL Debut
Flint, Mich. - Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic (nuh-DEHL-koh-vihch) played a key role in the transition period from the Plymouth Whalers to the City of Flint in 2015. On Tuesday, Jan. 17, Nedeljkovic became the first Firebird that once played at the Dort Federal Event Center in Flint to now make his debut in the National Hockey League.
After trailing on the road 4-1 to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena, Nedeljkovic, a native of Parma, Ohio, was called-upon 9:16 into the second period in his home state night Tuesday night.
In his NHL debut against the team he grew up watching on television, Nedeljkovic was perfect; making all 17 saves on 17 shots in 29:57 between-the-pipes.
Nedeljkovic started the season with the Charlotte Checkers in the American Hockey League (AHL), the primary affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes. He was called up to the Hurricanes on Monday, not knowing he would make his NHL debut the following day.
The news came after Nedeljkovic posted consecutive wins in the AHL for the first time this season. He made a career-high 42 saves en-route to a 3-2 shootout victory over the defending Calder Cup Champions, Cleveland Monsters, last Friday before making 22 saves in a 5-3 triumph over Cleveland the following night.
Prior to playing for the Checkers, Nedeljkovic was selected in the second-round, 37th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2014 NHL Draft.
In 19 games with the Flint Firebirds, Nedeljkovic recorded an impressive 3.21 goals against average (GAA), a .907 save percentage (SAV%) and was 5-4-1-1 at the Dort Federal Event Center in Flint.
Along with Nedeljkovic making his National Hockey League debut, 366 CHL alumni were listed on NHL opening day rosters representing over 53% of all players in the league to start the 2016-17 season. For nine consecutive years from 2007 to 2015, the first-pick overall in the NHL Draft came from the CHL. 7 of which were OHL players including Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov, Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid.
The Firebirds currently have two players that have signed contracts with NHL clubs. Forward Kole Sherwood signed a three-year NHL contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets (July 2015) and defenseman Jalen Smereck signed a three-year NHL contract with the Arizona Coyotes (October 2016). Flint’s Nicholas Caamano was drafted by the Dallas Stars in the most recent NHL Draft in June 2016. Along with Caamano, Sherwood and Smereck, four more Flint Firebirds competed in NHL training camps this fall: Everett Clark (St. Louis Blues), Connor Hicks (Detroit Red Wings), Luke Kirwan (Detroit Red Wings) and Alex Peters (Carolina Hurricanes).
Flint's C.J. Clarke, Samuel Duchesne, Jake Durham, Fedor Gordeev and Jack Phibbs are five first-time eligible players to be selected in the NHL Draft this June.