Calgary Flames prospect Dustin Wolf dominating in 2nd AHL season

“I’m just trying to go out there and stop as many pucks as I can.”

That’s something Dustin Wolf does a lot.

Roughly 702 times this season, to be precise.

The 21-year-old Calgary Wranglers goaltender is making the transition to professional hockey look seamless.

Midway through his sophomore campaign, Wolf leads the AHL with 20 wins, four shutouts and a sparkling .934 save percentage through 25 games.

The California product went eight-and-one in December to earn AHL goalie of the month honours.

Not bad for a guy who was selected fourth-last in the 2019 NHL draft.

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“Just try to push the boundaries and show people that it doesn’t matter where you get drafted, that you work hard and compete and do your job best you can, it doesn’t matter and you’re going to reach your potential if you just do what you do best and continue to build,” Wolf said.

The knock on Wolf has always been his 6’0 frame — much smaller than the typical modern NHL goalie.

For context, Flames starter Jacob Markstrom stands at a staggering 6’6 and the NHL’s current winningest goalie, Boston’s Linus Ullmark, clocks in at 6’5.

But Wranglers development goaltending coach Mackenzie Skapski said Wolf’s focus, hockey IQ and work ethic have made the size conversation a non-issue at this point.

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“He’s got a lot of unique attributes to his game that makes him far more mature than what he actually is and his game just continues to progress,” Skapski said. “He’s very good at dialling into certain situations and it’s easy to get distracted, especially being in this atmosphere.

“Sizes isn’t an issue until it becomes an issue. So we really don’t put much emphasis on the size. We put emphasis and stopping the puck, and I think he’s doing a good job of that right now and that’s part of his process.”

For Wolf, a big part of that process is maintaining his cool, composed demeanour both on the ice and in the long run with the NHL dream getting tantalizingly close.

“I think just try to be as patient as possible,” Wolf added.

“I think that kind of goes back to, you know, being what’s considered a smaller guy. You’ve kind of got to take as much ice as you can. If you can stay on your feet and be as patient as possible, you’ll make shooters make a decision on how you’re playing and then you’re going to be in a pretty good spot.”

To be clear, this isn’t a sudden breakout of on-ice thievery.

Wolf earned the AHL’s top goaltender award in his 2021-2022 rookie campaign, and before that, the Western Hockey League’s top goaltender honours in 2019-2020.

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These types of performances are bound to give the skaters in front of him a huge boost of confidence.

“From the start of last year when he turned pro to now he’s been extremely consistent,” Wranglers alternate captain Matthew Phillips said. “There really hasn’t been an adjustment period for him. He’s just been the same goalie has been his whole life.

“He gives us more than enough of a chance to win every game. He’s always square to the puck and he makes those second and third saves — it’s impressive how consistently he does it.”

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While there’s a lot of runway to go, Wolf’s young career brings a lot of optimism to a position that Calgary has historically struggled to develop.

The Flames’ greatest success in drafting a goaltender came in 1981, when they picked up another undersized young man, coincidentally also playing with the WHL’s Calgary Wranglers.

Yep, things turned out pretty well for Mike Vernon in his Flames tenure.

His Game 7 overtime save on Vancouver’s Stan Smyl paved the way for Calgary’s first, and only, Stanley Cup in 1989.

1990 11th overall pick Trevor Kidd left behind a mixed legacy, but his 178 starts still put him fourth all-time in Flames regular season starts.

Skapski believes when the time comes, there will be big things in store for Wolf.

“I think he’ll have no problem. He’s a smart kid and he adjusts well and he continues to adjust. So I think he’ll have an easy transition when that day comes.”

The Wranglers host the Bakersfield Condors on Tuesday.

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