CALGARY — When the puck drops in the Czech Republic for the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship tournament on Boxing Day, the Calgary Flames will have just one representative at the event. That lone player: 18-year-old Dustin Wolf. The American goaltender was one of the last selections at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and is quietly becoming one of the Flames' — and the NHL's — top prospects.
Originally from Tustin, Calif., an Orange County suburb on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Wolf starred in local leagues as a teen. He moved up the coast in 2017 to join the Western Hockey League's Everett Silvertips as Carter Hart's understudy.
Now in his third season in the WHL and second as Everett's starter, Wolf has emerged as one of the WHL's top performers. Heading into the holiday break, he is among the leaders in wins (17), shutouts (five), save percentage (.941) and goals-against average (1.91) in all of Canadian junior hockey. With the pressure of his draft year off, the backstop is allowing himself to focus on hockey.
“Just being able to go and play now, not having any worries about what people think of you, [you're] just going out there and playing your game,” Wolf told Sporting News following a recent victory over the Calgary Hitmen. “When you come out with a win there's a plus to it. We've got a great team right now and hopefully, continue that moving forward.”
— The WHL (@TheWHL) November 3, 2019
Just six months ago, Wolf was one of the sentimental stories of the draft.
Highly touted due to his numbers and Everett's strong season, he unexpectedly slid to the seventh round — 214th overall and fourth from the very end of the entire draft — and was still in attendance at Rogers Arena in Vancouver for the pick. Tears flowed and a big grin was there too as he was selected by the Flames, an organization whose captain is the undrafted Mark Giordano and most iconic players include late draft selections like Theoren Fleury who taken in a round that no longer exists.
“Obviously I didn't expect to stay until the last four picks in the draft,” said Wolf. “But I couldn't have asked for anything better than to come to Calgary. I've got nothing but good things to say about them and they've supported me through everything thus far.
"It's pretty much been a dream come true and still a lot of work to do, but a step in the right direction.”
Wolf's latest challenge is the upcoming World Junior tournament. One of three goaltenders headed to selection camp — along with Florida Panthers prospect Spencer Knight and Vegas Golden Knights prospect Isaiah Saville – Wolf is hoping to make an impression and help the team win when they travel to the Czech Republic over the holidays.
“I want to go into camp and show how much I've improved since the Summer Showcase and try to make it a tough decision for who they start,” he said, agreeing that the incumbent Knight may have the lead for the American starting job. “He's obviously a first-round pick for a reason. Awesome guy, great goaltender, but obviously you're fighting for a job and you want to play as many games as you can. Whatever it takes to [win] a gold medal, that's what it's going to be.”
Needless to say, Flames brass is excited to see what Wolf can do on the international stage. For the first time since Johnny Gaudreau captured gold in 2013, the C of Red may be spending the holiday season cheering for the red, white and blue.