Over the past few weeks, The Win Column has ranked the Calgary Flames’ best prospects in advance of the 2022 NHL Draft. Finally, we’ve arrived at our top ranked prospect: Dustin Wolf.
The 21-year-old rookie pro was nearly unanimously voted into the top position, receiving all but one first place vote. A seventh-round draft pick in 2019, Wolf is coming off of a season so impressive, he beat out fellow 2019 draft choice Jakob Pelletier for the honour, despite Pelletier being picked in the first round.
Regardless of his late draft position, Wolf quickly became a highly anticipated prospect with his continued success in the WHL. Drafted out of the CHL’s Everett Silvertips, Wolf started his WHL career backing up Carter Hart, until Hart was drafted and he could take the starters role. Once Wolf did, he never let go, twice winning the CHL’s goalie of the year award.
Wolf’s strengths and weaknesses
When it comes to Wolf’s strengths and weaknesses, its easiest to get his one weakness out of the way first: his size. It has been a question mark in the past, and is the reason he fell to the seventh round in the draft. Notably however, he is listed at 6’0″ and 170 pounds, larger than star NHL goalie Juuse Saros, who just came in third in Vezina voting.
Even after winning multiple awards for his WHL goaltending, scouts doubted his ability to translate his success on a dominant Everett team to the professional level. But, he answered the doubters this season because his many strengths: his skating, flexibility, and maturity, vastly outweigh any issue his size might pose.
His strong skating allows him to move laterally extremely well, which helps him to stay in position and fill the net despite his size. A big goalie like Jacob Markstrom can afford to sit back a little deeper in his crease and still cover most of net, meaning he doesn’t have to travel as far laterally in case of a pass. Wolf, being smaller, has to cover more ground to be in position, and uses his athleticism do so.
Watch how in this clip, Wolf makes a good save at the top of his crease, and follows it up with another acrobatic save from the near side of the net off the rebound.
Another strength of Wolf’s that has allowed him to succeed at the pro level is his maturity. Often young goalies have plenty of talent but struggle to find calmness and consistency during demanding professional seasons. Wolf seems to have no such problem.
He doesn’t get too high or low on the ice, an important trait any player, but especially a goalie, where mental mistakes can easily lead to a goal against. Wolf’s calm demeanor has allowed him to find consistency in his game, too.
To be mastering skills at 21 years old that some athletes never manage is a testament to the potential Wolf has as a future NHL starter.
One impressive example of his maturity was after his first AHL game. Although he allowed five goals on 11 shots, he was put back in for the next game, and came out with a much better performance, stopping 36 of 38. It turned out to be a sign of good things to come from the young star.
Wolf’s on-ice results
Its not an exaggeration to say Dustin Wolf has dominated every level he has played. Not bad, when one of the league’s dominated is the AHL, arguably the highest level of hockey outside of the NHL. His play was so impressive, he was voted the AHL goaltender of the year, by journalists, and players around the AHL.
Earning the starting role as a rookie, Wolf went on to have one of the most impressive seasons of any recent Flames’ prospect. It culminated in a deep playoff run to the Calder Cup finals, in which Wolf posted 3 shutouts and a .929 save percentage.
In the seasons prior in the WHL with Everett, Wolf was even more dominant, incredibly allowing fewer than two goals per game in consecutive seasons.
Wolf’s next steps
For Wolf, the next step is clear: the NHL. There’s no doubt that he sees himself as NHL calibre after that season, and will be pushing for Daniel Vladar’s backup spot.
That being said, it may not be possible for him to take it. Ryan Pike has reported that the Flames are happy with their current goaltending situation, and it makes sense.
Markstrom is locked in to be the starter next season after placing second in Vezina voting in 2021–22, and Vladar was excellent in his backup role. Still young and relatively inexperienced, it makes sense the Flames would be content to have Wolf spend another year in the AHL, giving him the opportunity to start more games and refine his game even further.
One way or another though, it won’t be long until Wolf forces his way into the NHL. The talent he has is at this point unquestionable, regardless of any size concerns. If he can keep up his exceptional AHL play, he’ll be in the NHL in no time.
With Vladar’s contract up at the end of next season, Wolf’s ascension to the league could be a storyline to watch as soon as the next trade deadline.