Growing up in South Jersey, Kyle Criscuolo got interested in hockey at a young age and followed the Flyers.
Now the diminutive forward is trying to make their roster.
Oh, he’s a long shot. But numerous long shots have earned NHL spots with strong performances in the exhibition season.
For the 5-foot-8, 181-pound Criscuolo, the opportunity begins Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center, where the Flyers will face the New York Islanders. He will play right wing on a line with left winger Maksim Sushko and center Mikhail “Misha” Vorobyev.
“It’s been a great first few days here,” Criscuolo said of training camp. “I’m just doing my best to give myself a shot to play for the Flyers.”
A native of Southampton Township, Criscuolo was a free agent when he signed a two-way contract with the Flyers on July 1. He will earn $700,000 if he makes the Flyers, and $200,000 if he plays for the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Criscuolo played at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia and at a Connecticut boarding school before starring at Harvard, where, as a junior, he was the first non-senior to become its captain since 1946.
Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher is familiar with Criscuolo. When Fletcher was the GM in Minnesota, Criscuolo worked for him as an intern in the Wild’s analytics department. Coincidentally, both attended Harvard, though many years apart.
When Fletcher showed interest in signing him, Criscuolo didn’t have to think long.
“I’ve always wanted to play for the Flyers,” he said.
Criscuolo, 27, had a brief stint with the Buffalo Sabres (nine games, no points) in 2017-18, sandwiched by two seasons with their AHL affiliate in Rochester. He had 15 goals and 34 points in 51 games two seasons ago, and 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 43 games last season.
Now he’s trying to beat long odds and win a spot with the Flyers. If he doesn’t, he will play for Scott Gordon’s Phantoms.
“The first couple days, the coaches have been preaching to play fast and be on the right side of pucks,” he said. “For me, I just think I have to use my speed and create turnovers and play a responsible [defensive] game, which I like to do, and I have to keep getting to the net on the offensive end and create some havoc.”
Highly touted center Morgan Frost is injured and won’t play Monday.
Here is the Flyers’ lineup for the 7 p.m. game, which will be televised by NBC Sports Philadelphia:
· Kevin Hayes centering James van Riemsdyk and Jake Voracek.
· Vorobyev centering Sushko and Criscuolo.
· Shayne Gostisbehere and Justin Braun.
· Egor Zamula and Phil Myers.
· Samuel Morin and Andy Welinski.