Getting off on the wrong foot was the story of Matt Boldy’s 2019. When the Minnesota Wild drafted him 12th overall that year, fans were not at all receptive to the big, skilled winger. Perhaps it was an automatic reaction against the disastrous Paul Fenton Era, which would end two months later. Maybe the reason was fans were excited about others on the board in a deep draft.
It didn’t get better once Boldy started his season at Boston College. An absurdly low 2.4 shooting% drove a disastrous first half where he scored three points in his first 15 games. Some presumed Boldy to be The Next Filip Johansson.
Fortunately for the State of Hockey, Boldy might be the only person on earth to whom 2020 was kind.
Boldy shifted from center to his natural wing position alongside fellow 2019 first-rounder Alex Newhook. The two freshmen saw their production explode together, with Boldy racking up 23 points in his final 19 games.
Even then, some people doubted Boldy. Some claimed that Newhook, who racked up 29 points in that final stretch, drove that line and carried Boldy. Others pointed to the fact that his overall stats lagged behind other NCAA freshmen, even with the hot second half.
After the 2020 Draft, you had to start wondering if his own team even believed in him.
Hindsight Is 2020
One week after the 2020 draft, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Minnesota tried to trade for the 12th overall pick. This obviously failed, because the Florida Panthers kept their pick to take Finnish center, Anton Lundell. Two days later, The Athletic’s Michael Russo hinted that Boldy would be someone who’d pique Florida’s interest.
Then on a Dec. 3 podcast, Russo further elaborated on that matter. He believes that the Wild wanted goalie Yaroslav Askarov and were willing to move Boldy for him, but Askarov was taken a pick before Florida. Though he did leave open the possibility that Minnesota may have also wanted Lundell.
A move like this would have made sense. The Wild had hired Judd Brackett, who had a chance to draft Boldy with Pick 10 in 2019. Brackett passed, and the Vancouver Canucks landed Vasili Podkolzin. P.J. Fenton, the scout who did draft Boldy, is now running Florida’s amateur scouting.
Either Askarov or Lundell would have been great additions. Askarov has only played seven KHL games this year but has an insane .962 save%. Lundell has 12 goals and 20 points in 17 games, which would be the highest pace by an under-21 player in Finland’s Liiga since Olli Jokinen in 1997-98. Boldy would have to do something incredible to show he belongs in that conversation.
He’s doing it.
A late start due to coronavirus, positive tests canceling games, and World Juniors training camp have limited Boldy to just four NCAA games so far — but he’s made the most of them.
Boldy has three goals and eight points on the season, leading the NCAA in points per game, albeit in a small sample. The production is sublime, but Boldy isn’t just putting up points, he’s taking over games and driving his line. Everything that made him special is on display.
Anyone worried about his shot can have those fears put to rest. Boldy’s scored three goals, all of them off the rush and all have beat the goalie cleanly. He effectively uses the threat of the pass to create hesitation and space for himself, as he shows on this shorthanded goal.
That threat to pass is very real, as Boldy has assumed a role as his line’s primary puck-carrier and playmaker. Of his five assists, all have been of the primary variety, with none coming off rebounded shots from Boldy. Just accurate feeds to players in great scoring positions. Here he shows off his incredible ability to create off the backhand.
That’s a tape-to-tape pass through two defenders. That’s Kevin Fiala-esque even if it comes off the forehand. That it comes from his backhand shows how dangerous and awe-inspiring of a playmaker he is.
For our money, here’s the play that best sums up what makes him great:
Boldy carries the puck into the zone with two defenders converging on him. He chips the puck past him, muscles through those defenders, then finds the puck and instantly feeds Mike Hardman for a one-timer. How many players in Wild history could make that play? A handful? Two? Zero?
The Pippen to Marco?
The next step for Boldy begins this week at the World Juniors. After his slow start left him off the USA team last year, he’s in a prime position to prove he belongs in a starring role with a top-end US squad.
Boldy is currently slated for second-line duty alongside 2021 Draft hopeful Matt Beniers and Cole Caufield, Wisconsin’s net-filling sophomore. This tournament could be a preview of what Boldy’s role could be in the NHL.
With two great players on his line, Boldy may not carry the puck as much as he’s doing in BC. Once the cycle starts, or when his line takes the ice for the power play, Boldy should shine. His ability to find and keep the puck in the corners, stickhandle through tough defenses and make crisp passes should help drive results for his line.
That might sound like a supporting player rather than a Marco Rossi-type star. Maybe that’s right, and that’s his ultimate destiny. Even if that’s true, we’re talking about a perfect running mate for a star player. One who can match a star linemate’s skill, has the finishing ability to keep defenses honest, and has the size to come out of any scrum with the puck.
After the World Juniors, Boldy will return to Boston College where he will likely play with Newhook for the first time this season. Given their work together last year, and what Boldy’s accomplished without Newhook this season, Boldy should continue his monster year.
If that happens, Minnesota will be glad they didn’t move him this fall.