It’s no secret that when it comes to evaluating talent, goaltending is the hardest position to predict. It’s why you rarely see more than one or two goalies get drafted in the first round, and very rarely in the top ten. For every Marc-Andre Fleury and Carey Price, there’s a Rick DiPietro and a Chet Pickard.
The picture gets even more foggy when you’re talking about signing goaltenders from overseas. This topic isn’t unfamiliar to Toronto Maple Leafs fans, as they were left underwhelmed with the results following the signing of Jonas Gustavsson in 2009. While “The Monster” had a whirlwind of hype around him, he managed a save percentage (SV%) of only .900 and a goals against average (GAA) of 2.98. Granted, he battled heart issues throughout the course of his time in Toronto, so this wasn’t entirely his fault.
On May 19, 2021, the Maple Leafs dipped their feet into the European free agent pool once again, signing goaltender Erik Kallgren to a two-year, two-way contract. Kallgren, 24, had spent the 2020-21 season with the Vaxjo Lakers HC of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) where he saw his most successful pro season to date. And for a team like the Maple Leafs, who aren’t really oozing prominent goalie prospects, Kallgren could have an opportunity to make some noise for himself.
Kallgren’s Path to Toronto
A native of Stockholm, Kallgren was originally a seventh round pick of the Arizona Coyotes in 2015. He impressed in his rookie season with Linkoping HC’s J20 team, posting a record of 27-7-0 with a SV% of .936 and a GAA of 1.75. He made the jump up to the Allsvenskan league, essentially Sweden’s version of the American Hockey League (AHL), in 2016-17. Posting a record of 9-10-0 with a SV% of .897 and a GAA of 2.97 with IK Oskarshamn, he had a decent season but a bit of a setback compared to his junior numbers the year before.
From then, the Swedish netminder spent the next three seasons in the Allsvenskan league with his numbers slowly getting better each year. His best season came with AIK in 2018-19, finishing with a record of 18-12-0 along with a GAA of 2.01 and a SV% of .920. Despite steadily growing stats each year, Kallgren wouldn’t get his first taste in the SHL until the 2019-20 season.
That season was a decorated one for Kallgren, as he spent time with four different teams in four different leagues. After starting the season in North America, the Coyotes terminated his contract after five games split between the AHL’s Tuscon Roadrunners and the ECHL’s Rapid City Rush. He returned to Europe and got his first taste of SHL action with the Vaxjo Lakers, but spent most of the season with TPS of the SM-Liiga in Finland.
In 2020-21, Kallgren had a breakout season that would eventually catch the eyes of Maple Leafs’ brass. He finished with a record of 12-9-0 with a SV% of .911 and a GAA of 2.37, but really kicked it up a gear in the playoffs. He helped lead Vaxjo to an SHL championship and was an absolute rock between the pipes, finishing the playoff run with a .930 SV% and a GAA of 1.74. It’s also worth noting that the playoff MVP was his teammate and fellow Leafs prospect Pontus Holmberg.
Weak Goaltending Depth Provides an Opportunity to Pounce
The Maple Leafs’ goaltending situation is set in stone at the NHL level. With Frederik Andersen signing with the Carolina Hurricanes, the tandem will be Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek for this season. After that, it gets a little bit dicey. Michael Hutchinson is signed for the upcoming season, and has proven that he can be an effective third goalie. Granted, he’s also had some serious struggles at the NHL level, and there’s always the possibility that he gets claimed on waivers.
Joseph Woll and Ian Scott are the other two options to challenge Kallgren for a job with the Marlies. Woll has had a bit of a difficult time transitioning to the AHL, as he owns a career record of 18-23-4 with a SV% of .884 and a GAA of 3.68 over 47 career games. Scott, meanwhile, has had it as difficult as anybody. The fourth-round pick of the Maple Leafs in 2017 had hip surgery that caused him to miss the entirety of the 2019-20 season, and suffered a setback in 2020-21 that limited him to only six games (From ‘Marlies goalie Ian Scott close to game action after recovering from hip injury’, The Toronto Star – 04/08/21)
I think it’s safe to assume that the Leafs will start Scott in the ECHL to get him some regular playing time, so Kallgren’s role with the Marlies will undoubtedly be determined by his training camp with the Maple Leafs. If he impresses, he could find himself right there in the conversation of potential call-up options should Campbell or Mrazek, who have both had injury issues in the past, find themselves on the injury reserve.
While the Maple Leafs have a tandem to be optimistic about this year, having good depth is equally as important as having a good tandem in the event that one of these goalies go down. And the beauty of having multiple players battling to be “the guy” in events like these, is that it often shows in their on-ice performance considering they’re all working to prove something.
With the inexperience of the younger goalies like Scott and Woll, the battle will likely be between him and Hutchinson to be the next man up in the event of an injury. His experience and recent pro success in Sweden give him a compelling case for the Maple Leafs to try him out, and a strong training camp could give him a boost if they find themselves in a position to bring somebody up.
Alex Hobson is a third year broadcasting student at Niagara College. He has been writing about sports since 2005 and has been with The Hockey Writers since October of 2020. He covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft, and is also part of the Maple Leafs Lounge Podcast, presented by THW. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.