The Calgary Flames haven’t had a lot of luck with goaltending. It’s a sad fact that Flames fans have had to come to terms with over the last while, which is why the 2021–22 season has been an absolute breath of fresh air.
Not only is Jacob Markstrom a clear-cut Vezina candidate this season so far, backup Dan Vladar has been incredible in his own right. The Flames possess one of, if not the best, goaltending tandem in the NHL. And the dominance in the crease doesn’t end there. Down one level in the AHL might be the organization’s best goaltender, and the best the organization has had in decades.
Dustin Wolf is arguably the best goalie in the AHL right now, and is in the midst of one of the best AHL seasons in modern day history. As the Flames’ goalie of the future, he’s bursting onto the scene earlier than we predicted, and might just challenge Markstrom for NHL ice time next season.
Just how good has Wolf’s year been? So glad you asked.
Dustin Wolf’s numbers
So far this season, Wolf has solidified his role as the starting goaltender of the Heat, despite may expecting him to serve as more of a backup to Adam Werner in his first full season in the AHL.
|Goalies with 10 GP or more||GP||GAA||SV%||Wins||Winning %|
|Rank among U-21 goalies||2||2||2||1||1|
Wolf is a top-two goalie in every single major statistical category this season. He trails only the Utica Comets’ Akira Schmid, but Schmid is almost a full year older than Wolf is.
It’s absolutely incredible to see a goalie this young put up numbers this good. Wolf does not have a shutout yet this season, but with a 1.98 GAA over 12 games, he’s bound to record a doughnut at some point.
This performance looks like a huge step up from his cup of coffee with Stockton last season when he played three games. But, Wolf’s uninspiring 3.24 GAA and .895 SV% from the 2020–21 season was largely due to his AHL debut where he allowed five goals on 11 shots to the Toronto Marlies and only lasted 28:10. Since that rough debut, Wolf has put up sparkling numbers across the board, only allowing more than two goals in a game twice.
Wolf was way too good for the WHL last season, and he’s showing why he might be outgrowing the AHL already.
Looking back at 20-year-old AHL goaltenders
What makes Wolf’s season that much more remarkable is how it stacks up against the seasons of other 20-year-olds across AHL history. Looking back at all 20-year-old seasons from goaltenders in the AHL over the last 10 years, Wolf ranks among the best. This only includes goalies who played at least 10 games in the AHL.
Since the 2011–12 season, 20 goalies have played in the AHL as 20-year-olds. There are some very high level names on the list including Matt Murray, Juuse Saros, John Gibson, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Petr Mrazek, and Robin Lehner. Here’s how Wolf’s 2021–22 campaign stacks up so far. This table shows the top-10 20-year-old AHL goalie seasons since 2011–12 sorted by save percentage.
Once again, Wolf ranks among the league’s best. He ranks second in GAA, second in SV%, and first in winning percentage. Of course, there is lots of season left to play and these numbers could definitely change, but Wolf’s start puts him among the best 20-year-old goalies in recent AHL history.
Looking back at U-25 AHL goaltenders
If we expand that list to all goalies who were under the age of 25, Wolf really doesn’t lose any ground in the race. He still ranks as one of the best in recent AHL history.
Oh look, three current Flames goalies are on this list! Both Vladar and Markstrom are on the list, with Markstrom actually owning the 21st spot as well with his 21-year-old season. The only player that is Wolf’s age is Murray, and after that there a several incredible impact NHLers on the list who were older. This list does include a few goalies that should most likely be omitted, though. The 2012–13 season is a bit of an anomaly because of the NHL lockout. Regardless, Wolf is outperforming them anyway.
When could Wolf arrive in the NHL?
Markstrom is the clear cut starter for the Flames right now and likely for the majority of his contract with the team. Before this season, I saw Wolf’s career trajectory taking some time to advance to the NHL due to both Markstrom’s contract and AHL seasoning time for Wolf. Perhaps Wolf could advance to the NHL backup role after a season as an AHL backup and a couple seasons as an AHL starter.
However, with how quickly Wolf has adapted to the AHL and how dominant he’s been, I could see his ascent to the NHL accelerated drastically. If Wolf keeps the starting role in Stockton this season, the Flames will likely give him the reins again next season while Vladar is still on contract.
They may opt to move Vladar at next year’s trade deadline and bring Wolf up to the NHL, or keep Vladar and trade him in the offseason. Then, Wolf would be the NHL backup, Markstrom still with three years on his contract. Wolf could learn from Markstrom for a year or two, maybe even splitting duties with Wolf in the 2024–25 season. The following year, Markstrom would move into more of a backup role while Wolf inherits the starting job.
It’s too early to properly map out Wolf’s path to the NHL, but with how he’s played at the AHL level, it is a foregone conclusion that Wolf will play NHL games for the Flames. He is the goalie of the future and so far he’s done nothing but prove that he deserves that pedigree.
Here’s hoping Wolf continues his strong play and pushes for NHL ice time soon.