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New Jersey Devils Signings for Utica: Erik Källgren, Justin Dowling, & Kyle Criscuolo

The New Jersey Devils made three signings for two-way contracts primarily for their AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets: goaltender Erik Källgren, center Justin Dowling, and center Kyle Criscuolo.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Pittsburgh Penguins
Erik Källgren is now a Devil
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

One of the under-the-radar happenings on Free Agency Frenzy are the myriad of signings of fringe and minor league players. It is common for veteran and quality AHL players to request and get NHL contracts to sign with the organization, even if they end up joining the AHL affiliate for the season. It gives them a chance to play in the NHL as needed. These contracts are typically two-way contracts and the AHL salary is large for that league. It does not mean much at a NHL level but this management is crucial to keep the AHL affiliate competitive. Which is to a benefit for the prospects on the team, the fans of that team, and the organization as a whole.

To that end, the New Jersey Devils have made three such signings this afternoon. They have signed center Kyle Criscuolo, center Justin Dowling, and goaltender Erik Källgren. All three contracts are just for one season. Per the New Jersey Devils’ website, all three are signed to NHL league minimum deals at $775,000. They will not take up any cap space unless the player is in the NHL. In the AHL, Criscuolo’s salary will be $330,000; Dowling’s salary will be $500,000, and Erik Källgren’s salary will be $450,000. These three will be among the higher paid players on the Utica Comets. This is the cost of doing business.

The goaltender Erik Källgren was the most important of the three signings. This is because the Devils needed a third-string goaltender. On paper, that looked to be Nico Daws going into next season. However, Daws underwent hip labrum surgery as reported by Ben Birnell of the Rome Sentinel on June 10. It is expected that he will be out until Christmas. This left the Devils with three signed goaltenders for the NHL: Vitek Vanecek, Akira Schmid, and Tyler Brennan. Brennan is making his professional debut in 2023-24. Going from the Western Hockey League to being an injury away from NHL action is a big risk for both Brennan and the Devils. Not to mention a risk for Utica to have their first half of the season be so reliant on Brennan and any AHL-signed goalies. The Devils needed a third-string goalie with at least a little experience.

Enter Källgren. While his save percentages with the Toronto Marlies in the last two seasons are not great (90.4% in 2021-22, 88.3% in 2022-23), he does have 24 games of NHL experience. Granted, those games did not go well either given his overall save percentages in both call ups with the Maple Leafs are below 90%. The biggest asset he has is that the 26-year old is still waiver ineligible per CapFriendly. If the Devils need to call up a goalie, Kallgren has up to 35 games before he has to go through waivers. Until he plays 36 games or next season, this means he can be sent down to Utica without having to pass waivers. His role is to try to be decent as Brennan gets used to the pro game and Daws recovers. It is a one-season contract, so he just needs to fill a spot for at least half of a season. Could the Devils have found a better third-string goalie? Maybe, but it is splitting hairs from a New Jersey perspective. Hopefully, he does better in Utica than he did in Toronto.

The most exciting of the three minor signings is Justin Dowling. You may have even seen him play in the NHL. He has 98 games of NHL experience with call ups from 2016-17 through 2021-22 between Dallas and Vancouver. He was never much of a scorer or a significant player at the NHL level with a career total of six goals and eighteen points. However, the soon-to-be-32 year old Dowling has been an AHL veteran scorer. In 509 AHL games, he has 115 goals and 249 assists with six seasons of at least 40 points. In AHL playoff games, he has 11 goals and 42 points in 60 postseason games. Given that the Utica Comets lost some scoring between 2021-22 and 2022-23, Dowling will absolutely help them on offense while also filling the center position. He has the career of a tweener - someone who will lead in the AHL but just fill-in at the NHL level. Which may be helpful if the Devils need to call up a center in a pinch. For the Comets, I hope Dowling is able to help create more goals as he did for the Texas Stars and Abbotsford Canucks.

The third signing has a local flavor. Kyle Criscuolo was born in Southampton, New Jersey. The South Jersey native came up with Team Comcast, Mercer Chiefs, Saint Joseph’s Prep in Pennsylvania, and Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut before going to the USHL and then Harvard. After four years and going undrafted, he went pro with Grand Rapids in 2016. Thus began the career of a journeyman - which he seemingly prepared for as a youth. Across 367 AHL season games and 25 AHL playoff games, he played for Grand Rapids, Rochester, San Diego, Lehigh Valley, and the San Jose Barrcuda. With 89 goals and 206 points in those season games, Criscuolo has been a useful player when available for his teams. His low number of games played suggests injury is an issue. Still, the Comets could use what he can bring to the rink at forward. I would not expect much for Criscuolo at the NHL level. He has appeared in 16 games and scored his first goal in his one game with the Sharks last season. Dowling would probably be the first call-up, but Criscuolo would at least be eligible as needed.

These signings will not move the needle much, if at all, for New Jersey. However, they will impact how the Utica Comets perform in 2023-24. That will impact how the prospects perform, how other potential call up options perform, and how the organization is seen in Utica. They were needed to be done and the signings make sense for what the team needs. They will need to make a couple more in the coming days to fill out their roster, but that these three were done today speaks to how important they were for the Devils to get done.

What do you think of these three signings? Will Utica benefit from all three of them? What else will the Devils need to do to help fill out Utica’s roster? Please leave your answers and thoughts about Erik Källgren, Justin Dowling, and Kyle Criscuolo in the comments. Thank you for reading.