If, at this point, the numbers you’re using to judge Dustin Wolf are still his height and weight, you’re doing it wrong.
The 21-year-old goaltender is in the midst of an American Hockey League season for the ages. Through 25 games, Wolf has as many shutouts as he does regulation losses. His 20–4–0 record is by far the best in the league.
We already know Wolf isn’t a one-season wonder. He’s been named his league’s top goaltender in each of the last three seasons and is coming off a rookie AHL campaign in which he went 33–9–5 before leading the Stockton Heat to the Western Conference Final.
Wolf’s six-foot, 175-pound frame hasn’t remotely impeded him from being an elite AHL goaltender. And, quite frankly, he’s only gotten better with every passing game since turning pro.
Take Sunday’s game against the Bakersfield Condors as a key example. The short-staffed Wranglers didn’t have their best stuff all day long and ended up being outshot 36–23.
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Wolf was the difference. While he made a few 10-bell stops — like the one on Tyler Tullio, shown below — the majority of Wolf’s workload consisted of medium-danger shots that he swallowed up with apparent ease.
The Condors barely had any second or third chances all game long. Wolf is more than capable of taking care of rebounds, but one of the biggest parts of what makes him so effective is his ability to prevent extended offensive zone sequences before they even start.
It’s hard to believe Wolf ever made it all the way down to the seventh round of the 2019 NHL Draft. He had just posted a 41–15–2 record and a .936 save percentage in 61 WHL games with the Everett Silvertips in his draft year. Wolf was in attendance at the draft in Vancouver and watched 21 other goaltenders — including three others from the WHL — be selected before him.
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At this point, Wolf might be the best goaltending prospect affiliated with an NHL team. He’s a perfectionist in the crease who elevates his game to new levels when the goings get tough. With his blend of athleticism and competitiveness on full display every night, Wolf is basically always worth the price of admission for a Wranglers game.
Wolf put up a fantastic .924 save percentage in 47 games with the Heat last year. In 13 playoff contests, he posted a .929. Through 25 games with the Wranglers this season, he’s at a .934. Over his last 10 outings, he’s all the way up at .963.
“Honestly, Wolfie’s been probably our best player, consistently, every single night,” Wranglers forward Ben Jones said after Sunday’s win over Bakersfield. “The saves he makes, he really bails us out at times.
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“When we’re playing better and we’re playing hard defensively, he doesn’t have to make those 10-bellers, but, when those breakdowns happen, we know we can trust him to do that,” Jones added. “As you’ve seen probably 100 times, he’s already done that for us.
“We’re really lucky to have him.”
The Flames have notoriously struggled to develop young goaltenders over the last three decades. Ever since their questionable draft maneuver to select Trevor Kidd over Martin Brodeur back in 1990, the Flames have had all kinds of problems identifying young goaltending talent.
Well, Dustin Wolf has all the talent in the world. It remains to be seen how his game will translate into the NHL, but it translated into the AHL just fine. More than fine, in fact. Wolf is a shoo-in to attend the AHL All-Star Classic next month and, at this rate, should win his second consecutive Baz Bastien Memorial Award as the league’s top goaltender.
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Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar might have something to say about Wolf breaking into the NHL right away, but make no mistake: Calgary would be remiss to trade this prospect for pretty much anyone or anything, barring an overwhelming return.
It might be in the Flames’ best interest to give Wolf a brief trial run near the end of the regular season when their playoff fate is already decided. But there’s no reason to rush him into the big leagues on a full-time basis. Give it another year or two.
In the meantime, head on down to the Saddledome to watch Wolf play with the Wranglers. You’ll be doing yourself a favour.
He’s that good.