Since entering the National Hockey League in 1972 (in Atlanta), the Calgary Flames have drafted 39 goaltenders. So far, just five have made it to the NHL and played over 200 games – the most recent was 2002 sixth round pick Curtis McElhinney.
After putting a bow on a really impressive major junior career with the Everett Silvertips, 2019 seventh round pick Dustin Wolf is going pro in 2021. But given the Flames’ lengthy history of drafting promising goalies and having things go sideways, is it okay for fans to get excited about Wolf?
Originally from the Anaheim area, Wolf worked his way up through west coast minor hockey. He was drafted by the Silvertips in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft and caught on as Carter Hart’s backup in 2017. Wolf played four seasons in the Dub – one as backup and three as starter – and finished his career among the all-time leaders in goals against average, save percentage, shutouts and wins.
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In our search for clarity on how much excitement and optimism Flames followers should reasonably have about Wolf, we reached out to Kevin Woodley of NHL.com and In Goal Magazine. We asked him, quite simply, is it okay to get excited about Wolf?
“I want to say yes, but there’s a reason for this conversation,” said Woodley when we chatted with him last month. “There’s a reason for that track record, and it’s not anything specific to the Calgary Flames. Goaltending paths and goaltending development, development in general, is rarely linear and goaltenders sometimes exist outside of even those expectations.”
In recent years, the Flames have drafted several promising goalies that failed to clear one development hurdle or another. Some of them were highly touted but couldn’t translate their junior success to pro success, such as Leland Irving and Mason McDonald. Some were stymied by injuries, such as Brent Krahn and Jon Gillies. Others simply were late bloomers, such as Laurent Brossoit, who’s carved out a niche as a reliable backup.
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Despite this organizational history, Woodley conceded that there is some good reason for excitement about Wolf’s potential going forward.
“I think you can for a lot of different reasons,” said Woodley. “It’s the mentality, it’s the mindset, it’s the technique. There’s some cutting-edge elements to the way he plays the game and yet he also possesses the willingness to go outside that technical box and play desperate as well. The way he adjusts quickly to lessons, whether it’s that first AHL start, and some of the mindset stuff that he picked up from Garret Sparks immediately and quickly applied. There’s a lot to like about this guy. I think that when you combine that with the success he’s having both in the Western League and in that limited time in the American Hockey League, I think you can get excited.”
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Woodley did caution that nobody should expect Wolf to become the next Miikka Kiprusoff or anything like that. But the Flames are confident that Wolf will have success at the next level. How much success that’ll be is yet to be determined.
“Now the question is: playing at the NHL and at what level, what you contribute, are two different things,” said Woodley. “I don’t think we’re there yet in terms of knowing that, but they’re pretty sure he’s gonna play and I like all the reasoning behind that confidence.”
Wolf’s entry level contract will start rolling in the fall, so he’ll be headed to Stockton to begin his pro career – conveniently enough located in the state he grew up in. He’ll also have the benefit of Jacob Markstrom’s presence: he’ll have a veteran to mentor him in training camps, and since Markstrom is under contract until 2025-26 there won’t be any need to rush Wolf into the NHL to be the club’s saviour. He’ll be given ample time to progress through the various developmental steps.
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Wolf has put together a frankly stellar resume as an amateur. He’s won World Junior gold and was named the WHL’s top goaltender in each of the past two seasons. Hopes are high for his future. The Flames have had some weirdly bad luck with goalies throughout their history, but there are reasons to think Wolf may buck the trend and eventually become a successful NHL goaltender.