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Recapping my pre-season predictions: ‘Dustin Wolf claims the backup spot by game 20’

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Photo credit:Brett Holmes-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Middleton
1 month ago
Coming into 2023-24, the Calgary Flames goaltending situation was one that had some controversy surrounding it, if you could even call it that.
With Jacob Markstrom coming off an uncharacteristically poor season, exacerbating the Flames’ issues all around the ice, and Dan Vladar also coming off a relatively poor season, but one where the team in front of him didn’t play too well consistently enough for him to get the results, many, including me, believed Dustin Wolf could come in and make a name for himself.
But, as we’ll dissect in this article, I was wrong, although there were some good signs toward the end of the season about what Wolf can do at the NHL level.

Prediction: Dustin Wolf claims the backup spot by game 20

Result: Wrong

First, the main reason I made this prediction was not because I didn’t have faith in Jacob Markstrom to turn things around. I wasn’t worried about a goaltender with a career .912 save percentage before 2022-23 happened to be able to bounce back. He has been a serious Vezina candidate two separate times in his career and has been in the top 10 three times. A rebound was likely to happen, and it did, aside from some bumps along the way.
I made this prediction due to Vladar’s volatile and, in my opinion, relatively below-average play and the team’s overall status, especially after their poor start.
Vladar could certainly be a serviceable backup on another team that could use it, but the Flames already had a strong number-one goalie. With the team aiming to put youth in the lineup, why not put the best-performing goalie prospect in the world in the backup spot to help learn from your seasoned veteran who may not be here for much longer?
Not to mention, after Wolf’s MVP season with the Wranglers in 2022-23, what else could he have to prove in the AHL? The stats he posted in 55 games were ridiculous, prompting fans to believe he should have gotten a consistent shot.
But, that would end up not being the case, as Wolf would spend most of his time down in the minors, where he, unsurprisingly, posted excellent numbers. In 36 games played with the Calgary Wranglers, he posted a .922 save percentage and 2.45 goals against average. So, while the backup goaltender for the Flames was struggling, Wolf was still with the Wranglers.
Once Wolf came up from the AHL, he struggled a bit, but he was able to find his groove in the final 10 games of the season. The 23-year-old finished the final 10 games of his season (the only time he consistently got starts) with a .901 save percentage and a record of 6-4-0.
Wolf still needs some consistent time at the NHL level to truly develop into his full potential, and I believed it was going to happen in 2023-24, especially with Vladar’s performance in most of the games he started. He had the third-worst goals saved above expected among any goaltender that faced at least 50 unblocked shot attempts. However, it was clear that the Flames management and the coaching staff believed it was worth it to give the young goaltender more time in the AHL to iron out his flaws.
It’s important that I mention that I don’t think extra conditioning in the minors for a young goaltender is necessarily a bad thing. There is always an aspect of the game, no matter which position category a player falls into, that can be improved. But there comes a time when those issues should be figured out at the NHL level because that’s the kind of competition you will see for the rest of your career.
In the end, I was wrong about the prediction, but nonetheless, I’m excited to see what Wolf can do next season if he’s awarded a consistent number of starts. He was toward the end of the season, and for a 23-year-old goaltender, did pretty well for himself against a couple of strong teams behind an up-and-down defence in front of him.
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