On Thursday night, Erik Källgren achieved his dream of playing in his first-career NHL game.
But how did we get here?
When the Maple Leafs signed the 25-year-old to a two-year deal last spring, there wasn’t much we knew about him. Källgren was a seventh-round pick by the Arizona Coyotes in 2015, and it never really worked out there.
He joined the Marlies after winning the Swedish Hockey League Championship with Växjö HC earlier in the year, where he posted a .930 save percentage.
Early on in the season, Källgren was playing lights out hockey, posting a .923 save percentage through his first eight games with the Marlies. During that eighth game is where he suffered a concussion that would put him out for almost a month.
This was at the time when Joseph Woll was up with the Maple Leafs, which meant it was Michael Hutchinson and Newfoundland Growlers’ netminder Keith Petruzzelli taking over.
Källgren, though, returned in time to play two more games in December, finishing with a .915 save percentage before the Marlies suffered a COVID outbreak that affected most of the team. Toronto would return to play on December 30th, 15 days since their last game.
But Källgren wouldn’t get a start until the second-half of that back-to-back. And after that game, it started to go down hill.
Since his first game back on January 1st to his last game with the Marlies on March 9th, the 25-year-old only had a save percentage over .900 in seven of the 16 games. During that span, Källgren averaged an .893 save percentage.
Now, looking at those numbers, you might be wondering why he was called up over Woll, and let me explain.
Toronto has given an opportunity to both Hutchinson and Woll at the NHL level this season and it was only fair if Källgren got that chance too.
The 25-year-old is carries himself much differently than the other two goalies. He brings a calm and stoic presence (similar to Frederik Andersen), and seeing the way he acts might give you more confidence in him early on in a campaign.
Looking back at his save percentage over the last 16 games, there shouldn’t be much reason for concern. One of the reasons why there shouldn’t be is because Källgren was playing behind a struggling Marlies team.
During the last 12 games in which Källgren played in, Toronto had been called for 46 penalties. I wouldn’t say that’s an alarming number, but in the last four, the Marlies have been called for 23 penalties.
Playing in net when your team allows that many penalties over a stretch makes it incredibly tough on a netminder. Toronto would spend a lot of time in their own zone, causing both the players and Källgren to get tired, which eventually leads to pucks in the net.
When you combine the penalties with his rough stretch of games, you get an unideal situation that comes with sub-par numbers. But there have been many glimpses that show the 25-year-old is ready for a look in the NHL.
Whether or not Källgren gets the Maple Leafs’ net in the foreseeable future is yet to be seen, but if he does, he’d only hold onto it until Jack Campbell returns. There’s the chance right now to showcase what he might have at the NHL level, but I do believe he needs to be more consistent in the AHL before we see this as the constant.
It’s believed that he has the talent to one day get there, but it’s about piecing it together first.
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