While many eyes have been on the NHL playoffs, the AHL playoffs are also underway and have been just as entertaining and chaotic as the play at the NHL level. While things have mostly gone chalk with the top seeds advancing, the Hartford Wolf Pack came out of nowhere and has advanced to the Atlantic Division Final.
As the Calder Cup Quarterfinals get underway Thursday, I wanted to showcase some of the goaltending talent on the way that will be breaking into the NHL soon. In no particular order, here are several of the top young goaltenders in the AHL playoffs.
Dustin Wolf, Calgary Wranglers
Dustin Wolf’s season with Calgary has been one of the most memorable for a goaltender of any age or experience level in recent AHL playoffs memory. The 22-year-old netminder led the AHL in wins (42), shutouts (seven), save percentage (.932), and GAA (2.09), and was rightfully awarded the Les Cunningham Award as league MVP.
Wolf also won the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award for the second consecutive year as the AHL’s top goaltender and backstopped the Wranglers to the top of the league standings. He was also the MVP of the AHL All Star Game. Not too shabby for a former seventh-round draft pick.
Calgary will face the biggest test of the playoffs so far, taking on the Coachella Valley Firebirds in the Pacific Division final. Coachella Valley finished second in the league, three points behind Calgary, in the regular season. But with Wolf between the pipes, Calgary has the advantage.
Next season, Wolf should be playing in the NHL. He’s clearly shown he’s ready to go, but there’s a bit of a logjam ahead of him in the system. Jacob Markström carries a $6M cap hit through the end of the 2025-26 season, and Daniel Vladař’s two-year extension kicks in next year.
Markström has a full No-Move Clause in his contract, so Vladař would likely be moved, but the market may be small and the return on a trade underwhelming. For now, AHL and NHL fans alike can marvel at Wolf’s brilliance.
Dylan Garand, Hartford Wolf Pack
Hartford’s run to the Atlantic Division Final would not have been possible without a spectacular run of play from Dylan Garand, who is the playoff leader in wins (five), shutouts (two), GAA (1.17), and save percentage (.954). The Wolf Pack swept the Springfield Thunderbirds in the first round before winning a 3-1 series against the top-seeded Providence Bruins. Next up is the Hershey Bears with their own excellent goaltender in Hunter Shepard.
Garand was a fourth round pick for the Rangers in the 2020 Draft. He served a backup role behind Louis Domingue in the regular season and finished with a 13-14-3 record, and .894 save percentage, and a 3.01 GAA. Playing his best hockey at the biggest time of the year, Garand will be the playoff MVP if Hartford keeps advancing.
Looking ahead to next season, Garand will likely take over the bulk of AHL starting duties. This past year was his first full AHL season, though he did play two AHL games during the 2020-21 campaign. He’ll need at least one more season to hone his game before being ready to act as a back to Igor Shesterkin, but Garand’s future is bright.
Yaroslav Askarov, Milwaukee Admirals
I was absolutely furious when the Nashville Predators selected Yaroslav Askarov 11th overall in the 2020 Draft. I was hoping my beloved Minnesota Wild would draft him, though the Jesper Wallstedt pick a year later has worked out quite nicely so far.
Askarov is one of the most entertaining players, regardless of position, across the AHL and is one of the top three goaltending prospects in the world. Some nights, he’ll be bench-pressing the net after winning in a shootout.
Yaroslav Askarov bench pressed the net after winning in a shootout tonight 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/ZXjV32cstG
— Gino Hard (@GinoHard_) February 11, 2023
Other nights, it will be closing the net after posting a shutout.
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) December 12, 2022
Next up is the Central Division final with the Texas Stars, who have gone back and forth with Milwaukee for the top spot all season. My money is on the Admirals to win the series with Askarov shining in the net once again. During the AHL playoffs, he has a 3-2 record, a 2.35 GAA, and a .915 save percentage.
Askarov will be lighting up the NHL in short order, but like Garand, I think he’ll be in the AHL for most, if not all of next season. Still, he’s in the perfect environment to thrive and develop as well. Nashville has been a goaltending factory for years (from Tomáš Vokoun to Pekka Rinne and now Juuse Saros), and Askarov will be the next name to take over in the Music City.
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