The plan seemed pretty simple at the time. It seemed to be the same plan that many teams have followed over the years in developing their “Goalie of the Future”. It was a plan that the Flames were set to follow based on the way they set up their goaltending pipeline.
However, Dustin Wolf hasn’t really done his part for the plan. Usually when you have goalies making the jump from the WHL (or junior) to the AHL, they take some time to adjust to professional hockey and get settled in. Their results are usually mixed and they struggle with ups and downs as they become pro hockey players.
Not Wolf though, he hasn’t done that at all. He’s simply walked into Stockton this year with a fanbase and team ready to be patient with his development and instead set the AHL on fire. Wolf’s AHL career began with a five goal drubbing to the Toronto Marlies in the 2020-21 season. Fair enough, it’s going to happen for a rookie goalie. His other two games of that brief tryout saw him go 2-0-0 with a .953 SV%. He returned to Everett and went 18-3-0 with a 1.80 GAA and .940 SV% in Everett (WHL) to finish his junior career.
This year in what was originally to be a tandem with Adam Werner, Wolf has seized control of the net thanks to a ridiculous start to his first full pro season. As of December 21, Wolf holds a 14-0-2 record which is good for the highest win total in the AHL (next closest has 11). His GAA is at 1.84 which is third best in the league, behind Akira Schmid at 1.60 and Alex Lyon at 1.79, but Wolf has played five more games than both. His save percentage is once again at the .940 mark which is second to Schmid’s .944.
Looking past the numbers, what is also impressive about Wolf’s run is that he’s been incredibly consistent on a nightly basis. He has allowed two goals or fewer in 14/16 of his games, but actually hasn’t had a shutout yet. This means that his ridiculous numbers aren’t inflated by a few goose eggs. He’s only had one game where his save percentage has been below .911 which is insane. In fact, in the last in his last nine starts he is 9-0-0 with a 1.52 GAA and a .948 SV%.
Now obviously this paints a picture of a goaltender who is crushing it at the AHL level and he is, but it is important that the Flames remain patient with him and don’t rush him too soon. Luckily there isn’t a need to rush him as they have two solid goaltenders at the NHL level in Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar.
With Vladar having entered Covid protocol on the 21st though, it does open the door for Wolf to get his first callup to the NHL squad. With a back to back on the 30th and 31st, could he also get his first start?
It is certainly possible and Wolf has very much earned the opportunity or at the very least a chance to get on an NHL payroll for a few days or a week. It sounds like the Flames won’t be making their callups official until the 26th after the Christmas break once they get a better sense of who will be good to go after completing Covid protocol.
There is no question that Wolf’s play so far has at least earned him the chance to get a few NHL games should either of the two NHL netminders be unable to play. Going forward though, it raises some interesting questions.
The plan was pretty straightforward when Vladar was brought in for this year and next at $750K to provide a cheap backup option to Markstrom. However Vladar has been very good as well, going 5-1-1 so far this year with a .928 SV%. If the Flames are ready to promote Wolf after this season, there is little doubt in my mind that they could flip Vladar somewhere for a 2nd round pick after acquiring him for a 3rd in the summer.
Nevertheless it is a good problem to have three very good goaltenders pushing at the NHL level right now, not to mention Arsenii Sergeev who is lighting things up in the USHL right now as well. It is likely that we see Wolf get his first callup in the next week or so, but will we see him make his NHL debut as well? Only time will tell.