Calgary Flames

The case for Dustin Wolf to make the Flames opening night roster

With training camp for the 2023-24 season ready to kick off in just a few weeks’ time, it is time to take a look at the Calgary Flames’ top organizational prospect, and why he should be part of the 2023-24 Flames roster. That player is none other than Dustin Wolf, who, since being drafted with the fourth last pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, has done nothing but prove to the hockey world that he is one of the best prospects in all of hockey.

Nothing but dominance

Ever since Wolf’s rookie season in the WHL with the Everett Silvertips, he has absolutely crushed the competition. He put up a .928 SV% and a 2.25 GAA in 20 games in the 2017-18 season, which was followed up by an astounding .936 SV% and a 1.69 GAA in 61 games in his draft year, both stats good for tops in the entire WHL. That stat line alone should have made Wolf one of the most coveted goalie prospects in the 2019 draft, but because Wolf “only” stood at 6’0″ (relatively small for a goalie), he slipped all the way the seventh round, much further then he should have been taken.

His game after that only got better and better. In the shortened 2019-20 season Wolf took home the WHL Goalie of the Year award, the USA Hockey Junior Goalie of the Year award, and the CHL Goaltender of the Year award. Then, in 22 games in the 2020-21 season, Wolf put up a .940 SV% and a 1.80 GAA that once again made him the WHL Goalie of the Year. His junior career was a major success; he was one of the best goalies the WHL has ever seen.

In the 2021-22 season, Wolf turned pro, and the dominance continued. In his rookie season with the Stockton Heat, Wolf posted a .924 SV% and a 2.35 GAA in 47 games, along with a record of 33-9-5. He earned a spot on the AHL First All-Star Team, and was he took home the AHL Goaltender of the Year award. And if you think that is good, wait until you hear about his 2022-23 season.

If you haven’t already guessed, yes, Wolf dominated his competition once again. Even with an increased workload, Wolf found a way to get even better. In 55 games, he posted a .932 SV%, a 2.09 GAA, seven shutouts, and posted a record of 41-10-2. Without Wolf, the Wranglers quite possibly may not have even been a playoff team, let alone go on to win 51 games. Of course, Wolf took home some hardware. AHL First Team All-star, most wins in the league, best save percentage, best goals against average, most shutouts, was awarded AHL best goaltending duo (along with his partner Oscar Dansk), was named AHL Goaltender of the Year (count it up, that’s four years in a row where he has won goaltender of the year in his respective league), and finally, was named the AHL’s Most Valuable Player.

Wolf has nothing left to prove in the AHL

The timeline from the day Wolf was drafted until now has been nothing short of special. He was the AHL’s best player a season ago, and at just 22 years old, Wolf has done everything he possibly could to prove to the Flames that he is ready to take the next step and become an NHL goaltender. I strongly believe that is time for Wolf to be with the big club; he is too good for the AHL and last season he proved why.

Wolf’s jump to the NHL

Wolf got a taste of NHL hockey last season when the Flames called him up for the last game of the season against the San Jose Sharks. And sure, it was just only one game, but Wolf showed why he is one the best goaltending prospects in the world. The Flames won 3-1, and Wolf made 23 saves on 24 shots which was good for a .958 SV%. While he didn’t face a huge workload, he made some key saves at critical times and looked more than capable in the net. He was calm, cool, and collected, and did not look overwhelmed at all in his first NHL game.

In a season where the Flames goaltending duo between Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar was so painfully awful to watch, even for just one game, it was a breath of fresh air to see Wolf perform so well. It is now one of those spots that Wolf will be eyeing come the start of training camp.

Why Wolf should make the team

As mentioned, Wolf has dominated every league he has played in. With how underwhelming the goaltending was a season ago, a facelift in net is needed, and it is time for Wolf to make the jump so he doesn’t stagnate in the AHL.

The Flames obviously have a logjam in net. Markstrom is entering the fourth year of a six-year, $36 million deal and Vladar is entering the first year of a two-year, $4.4 million deal. One will need to go to make room for Wolf; the Flames cannot afford to go into the season with a three-headed monster in goal. Wolf is the only who is not waiver eligible, so moving him between the NHL and AHL club will be a benefit for management, as they would have to put Vladar on waivers first.

Markstrom is going to be on the NHL club, that is a given. But for as bad of a season as Markstrom had last year, Vladar was not much better, which would probably make him the odd man out if Wolf comes into camp and out performs him. The goalie trade market is always difficult to predict, so if the Flames do decide that Wolf has earned the right to backup Markstrom over Vladar, they could put Vladar on waivers. The Flames are tight to the salary cap at this point in time, so if Vladar were to get claimed on waivers, it would free up $2.2 million in cap space.

Wolf will need to have a fantastic camp to force the Flames’ hand to give him a spot on the team. Based on his history, that could very well happen. Goaltenders that have had the success of Wolf at lower level leagues have had major success at NHL level, and smaller goalies have proven they can compete with the best of them (look no further than Juuse Saros in Nashville). We don’t know if his success so far will translate the to NHL level for Wolf, but at this point he has to be given an opportunity to show what he can do. Perhaps he follows a similar path to Stuart Skinner in Edmonton and challenges to be team’s starting goaltender by year’s end.

It is time for Wolf to get his shot. He has earned this opportunity.

Time for a new direction

The Flames have not used a home grown goaltending prospect since Jon Gillies in the 2017-18 season, and he only lasted 12 NHL games with the Flames. The time is now for the Flames to get going in a new direction when it comes to giving young players an chance to make an impact at NHL level, and there is no player better one to start with than Wolf.

Alex Russo

Contributor for the Win Column CGY | 1/3 of The Burning Leaf Podcast
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