Calgary Flames

Could Dustin Wolf be the next late-round goaltender success story?

The Calgary Flames used the 214th overall selection of the 2019 NHL entry draft to select goaltender Dustin Wolf. Wolf comes to the Flames organization with some impressive numbers in the Western Hockey League: a sparkling 1.69 goals against average (GAA) and a .936 save percentage (SV%) to go along with seven shutouts in 61 games for the Everett Silvertips.

So what are the odds that drafting Wolf in Round 7 will pay off? Well, if we’re being honest, it’s probably a good call to temper expectations. The list of late goalie picks that have never made an impact in the NHL continues to grow with every passing year.

That being said, not all hope is lost. There is list of late round goalies, a small but optimistic one, that have broke the mold and have gone on to be NHL calibre goaltenders.

What does that mean for Wolf? Time will tell, and as of right now, it’s too early to count him out.

Late round goaltender draft picks

There have been a total of 135 goalies picked in the seventh round or later of the NHL draft (remember that the NHL used to go to Round 9 until 2005). Of those 135 players, only 36 of them have seen at least one NHL game. That clocks in at only a 26.6% success rate; if you can even call it that. Defining success rate as playing in one game isn’t much to applaud.

Let’s break that down a little more. Of the 36 goalies to see NHL action, only 14 of them made it past the 100 game mark, which is a bit better indicator of success in the NHL. So only 14 of 135 goalies selected would see legitimate time in the league, which translates to just a 10.4% success rate.

Despite the low success rate of a seventh round goaltender selection, there are still a handful of reasons to be optimistic for the Flames and Wolf.

The successful ones

There are five current goalies selected in late rounds but are currently making an impact in the NHL.

Henrik Lundqvist

Henrik Lundqvist is easily the biggest success from Round 7 in NHL history. He is the leader in games played for late draft goalies with 857 and holds a career 2.41 GAA and .918 SV%. Drafted in the 2000 Entry Draft, it did take Lundqvist five seasons to make the Rangers’ roster, but he was well worth the wait.

His 449 wins are the most by a goalie selected seventh round or later. Lundqvist’s posted a career high 30.62 GSAA in 2005-06 with the Rangers. He’s been one of the best goalies in the league for a long time, with four seasons above 20 GSAA, seven above 15 GSAA, and finishing in the top three of Vezina voting five times.

Pekka Rinne

Pekka Rinne sits behind King Henrik on the list with 623 games played. The Nashville Predators selected him in the eighth round in 2004. Rinne would suit up for three NHL games before making the NHL full-time in the 2008-09 season. Over his career, he sports a 2.38 GAA and a .919 SV%.

Rinne has 341 career wins, the most of any Finnish goaltender. Sorry Miikka. Rinne had a career season in 2010-11 where he posted a unbelievable 31.96 GSAA. Rinne has collected one Vezina win in 2017-18 season.

Brian Elliott

Briant Elliott is one of two ninth round selections currently playing in the NHL. Drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 2003, Elliott was slower than others to get into the NHL, playing seven seasons before making it to the bigs.

The veteran goaltender has played for a number teams including the Calgary Flames, St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, and most recently, the Philadelphia Flyers. Elliott even made history with the Flyers this past season in the Flyers’ crazy revolving door of a crease.

Elliot has posted a career 2.48 GAA and .913 save percentage along with 225 wins to date. His top achievement came in 2011-12 when captured the William Jennings Trophy while posting a career best GSAA of 26.04.

Jaroslav Halak

Jaroslav Halak is the other ninth round pick in the league in addition to Elliott. Halak, a Montreal Canadiens pick in 2003, took four seasons before he started NHL games for Montreal.

He has also seen time with the Blues, Washington Capitals, the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins. The journeyman goalie holds a 2.49 GAA, .916 SV% in his career, and 254 wins under his belt.

The Slovakian was the other half of the 2011-12 William Jennings trophy win in St. Louis, but that wasn’t Halak’s best statistical year. That came two season previous when he shared the crease in Montreal, posting a 17.98 GSAA to go along with five shutouts and finishing tenth in Vezina voting.

Anton Khudobin

Anton Khudobin, selected by Minnesota Wild in Round 7 in 2004, has become one of the league’s premier backup goalies. Sporting a career 2.49 GAA and .917 save percentage in his 188 games played, Khudobin has 83 wins to his name.

Khudobin’s path to the NHL was a long one, and only recently became a full time NHL goalie. He spent time in the ECHL, AHL, KHL, and a few NHL games before catching on with the Bruins as a backup in 2016-17.

During a career mostly made up of being the backup, Khudobin has still managed to post a respectable 16.04 GSAA this past season behind Ben Bishop in Dallas; Khudobin was a big reason the Stars made the playoffs.

A bright future for Wolf

From these examples, we see that there is definitely the potential for Wolf to succeed in the NHL. That being said, the results are still varied for late round goaltender selections, and the success stories are far outnumbered by the failures.

A lot of the success stories we see comes from natural talent mixed with excellent player development. For many of these late bloomers, we saw that it takes multiple seasons to reach the NHL. There is no such thing as an instant success story for a late round goaltender selection.

So what will happen between the Flames and Wolf? Will his road to the NHL be quick or easy, or will he endure the long and grueling journey of development, as many of those who tried before him have also done?

It was clear during the draft that the young man has potential, and has a burning desire to play in the NHL. Combined with being a late pick, so late that he almost wasn’t drafted at all, he has all the ingredients for a motivated athlete who will work hard to make it to the NHL.

Wolf might have been the fourth-last pick in the 2019 draft, but history has shown that some of these late goalies can pan out to be some of the best in the league. It will be a few years before we could see this come to fruition, but here’s to hoping we are celebrating Wolf’s career success down the road.

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