Dustin Wolf, the top goalie in the CHL in consecutive years, was drafted by the Calgary Flames in the seventh round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Despite being passed over multiple times by every team in the NHL and falling all the way to the fourth last draft position, he has quickly become one of the Flames top prospects.
Wolf has proven himself as much as humanly possible at the junior level, not only winning the two goaltender of the year awards, but also picking up a gold medal at the world juniors with Team USA.
There are concerns about his size, but certainly not about his performance so far in his career.
Wolf’s on-ice results
Wolf has been nothing short of sensational with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips. In 2017–18—his rookie season—he played 20 games and recorded an impressive .928 save percentage. Backing up a young Carter Hart, there was really no chance to take the starter’s job, but on most WHL teams he undoubtedly would have had greater opportunity.
He followed that up with an astonishing .936 save percentage in 2018–19 playing 61 games. This was the year before he won his first CHL goaltender of the year award. Wolf posted a 41-15-4 record that year, playing 61 of his teams 68 games.
It was following this incredible season that Wolf was picked by the Flames. He fell to the seventh round for a few reasons, mostly his size but also because teams took his incredible stat line with a grain of salt as he was playing on one of the leagues top teams.
Perhaps to spite his doubters, Wolf returned following the draft and put up another extremely impressive season in 2019–20, recording 34 wins in his 46 games and posting a .935 save percentage. While some will still attribute this excellence to his team, and they are likely at least partly right, his dominance is undeniable.
In his latest season—the shortened 2020–21 campaign—his stat line sparkled again, posting a .940 save percentage with the Silvertips and winning 18 games out of the 21 he played. All told, he has a career .935 save percentage in the WHL and a 1.84 GAA. Yes, he played for a top team, but his consistently elite stats cannot be overlooked because of it.
This year he also had the opportunity to play for the Stockton Heat in Calgary before the WHL season kicked off. After an extremely rough opening game in which he allowed five goals on only 11 shots, he recovered well. While he finished with just an .895 save percentage, he saved 62 of the 65 shots he faced after his first start. It’s hard to put much stock in such a small sample, but it’s encouraging how well he responded to the adversity of his first game.
Wolf’s strengths and weaknesses
Considering his impressive resume, it’s no surprise that the list of strengths is long with Wolf. Not only is he an excellent and fluid skater, he is impressively flexible, and has received plenty of praise over the years for his impressive maturity. To paraphrase an old Yogi Berra saying about baseball, goaltending in 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.
Being highly regarded for his physical fitness and flexibility as well as for his intelligence and maturity is a great sign for his future as a professional goaltender.
Here is a great clip of him in 2019 showing off his positionally sound play and flexibility.
Not only does he do a good job holding his ground at the top of his crease for the shot—an absolute necessity for a smaller goalie—he also is a strong enough skater to recover and prevent the rebound goal. Many goalies play a touch deeper in this situation to have less ground to cover before the second shot comes.
What’s exciting about Wolf is that without sacrificing depth when facing the initial shot, he still makes it across to make outstanding saves off cross-crease plays like this. And saves like this aren’t the exception for Wolf, they’re the norm. Even at the pro level in the AHL, his flexibility has already helped him make some incredible saves.
Aside from flexibility, these clips also showcase Wolf’s explosive lateral movement. In short, he is a supremely talented athlete.
The only weakness to speak of is his size, which to be honest, is more of a perceived weakness than an actual weakness—evidenced by his entire body of work to date. If Wolf were a few inches taller with the same stats, there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t have been a top prospect in his draft year.
Another point on his size, despite the perception that successful NHL goalies need to be big, two of the top ten goalies in goals saved above expected in 2021 (per Evolving-Hockey) were six feet or shorter: Juuse Saros and Alex Nedeljkovic. Notably, they were also two of the best goalies of the playoffs before their teams were eliminated.
Even NHL legend Henrik Lundqvist is only 6’1″. The idea that there is some sort of size minimum for NHL goalies is antiquated. In fact, in TWC’s interview with Wolf back in November, he noted that he is actually taller than Saros.
So, that leaves Wolf with only one weakness, and one that is not as much of a concern as it is often made out to be. No wonder he is so high on our prospect rankings.
Wolf’s next steps
It’s pretty clear there is nothing left for Wolf to prove in the junior ranks. To continue his development, it’s important the Flames make sure he moves to the AHL next year, and gets a substantial amount of ice time. Another year putting up otherworldly junior numbers won’t do him any good.
Expect him and Tyler Parsons, and perhaps another veteran goalie to vie for starts in Stockton next year. Goalies rarely leap from junior to the NHL, so don’t expect to see Wolf in the Flaming C next year. The Heat, however, should make the perfect training ground for him as he gets used to the pro game.
With a successful year in the AHL next season, Wolf could step into the NHL the following year if the organization is ready to put their faith in a young and small backup. One concern is that young goalies need to play to develop, and with Markstrom around long term, it may be quite some time until he finds a place on the NHL roster as Darryl Sutter is known for not playing his backups often.
In any case, his next immediate step is clear: promotion to the AHL. After that, it’s up to Wolf to put up numbers worthy of an NHL look before the team worries about the following steps. If he performs as well as his junior numbers suggest he may in the AHL, that day might come around sooner rather than later.