Matt Boldy's College Production Puts Him in Elite Company

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Matt Boldy’s Boston College Eagles got upset in the Hockey East Semifinals. UMass Lowell found themselves down 4-1 with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game before tying it. Lowell lost the lead with two minutes to go before tying it yet again to force overtime. Then Matt Brown’s double-overtime goal sent the Eagles home.

You know who you can’t blame, though? Boldy. Along with fellow 2019 draftee Alex Newhook, Boldy’s line dominated the River Hawks, accounting for all five of BC’s goals. Boldy himself assisted on four of them, including what appeared to be the go-ahead goal.

Look at this combination of accuracy and patience as he rifles a pass through an opening:

His season isn’t quite over yet. BC will head to the NCAA tournament and should be favorites to make the Frozen Four. But his sophomore season is winding down and does it ever look impressive.

Boldy enters the tournament with 10 goals and 30 points in 21 games for the Eagles. That’s 10th in the NCAA, and eight of the nine players ahead of him have played at least five more games than him. On a per-game basis, only Wisconsin’s duo of Cole Caufield (1.63 points per game) and Dylan Holloway (1.55) and Quinnipiac’s Odeen Tufto (1.63) boast higher marks than Boldy’s 1.43.

It’s an incredible performance, more than deserving of his Hobey Baker Award nomination. It’s also one that suggests great things for his career. Boldy’s production is in line with some of the best Draft+2 seasons by an NCAA first-rounder in recent memory.

Here’s how his Draft+2 year stacks up against first-round prospects that were in the NCAA and selected in their first year of draft eligibility:

1. Cole Caufield, 1.63

2. Zach Parise, 1.49

3. Dany Heatley, 1.46

4. MATT BOLDY, 1.43

5. Jaden Schwartz, 1.37

6. Alex Newhook, 1.36

7. Thomas Vanek, 1.34

8. Andrew Cogliano, 1.32

9. Nick Schmaltz, 1.24

10. T.J. Oshie, 1.21

Extremely impressive company to be in. Caufield and Newhook are top prospects. Parise, Heatley, and Vanek have been named to multiple All-Star games. Schwartz, Schmaltz, and Oshie are solid contributors in the NHL. Even Cogliano had a solid career, playing over 1,000 games.

Non first-rounders who compare to Boldy’s production include Johnny Gaudreau (1.46), Reilly Smith (1.42), and Paul Stastny (1.36). As for recent NCAA players selected by the Wild, he blows Jason Zucker (1.21), Vladislav Firstov (0.92), Charlie Coyle (0.88), and Alex Tuch (0.85) out of the water.

Boldy’s struggles from the first half of last season (six points in his first 20 games) are a distant memory. In his most recent 35 games, he has a whopping 17 goals and 50 points. Throw in a scintillating World Junior performance, and the question isn’t whether he’s going to make the NHL. It’s not even whether he was the right pick at 12th overall in 2019. It’s how good can he be, and how soon can he be in the NHL?

According to Byron Bader’s model, which compares the NHL equivalency (NHLe) of every prospect of the last 30 years, stardom is possible. His model currently has him at a 37% chance to become a star (which he defines as 0.7-plus points per game in the NHL). That might sound low, but it’s the third-highest odds among Wild prospects, behind Marco Rossi (82%), and Marat Khusnutdinov (44%).

Of course, NHLe is only based on points. It doesn’t account for, say, play-driving or defensive value, which Boldy appears to have. If those parts of his game translate, he’ll be immensely valuable even if he falls short of star production.

As for the next question — when will he be in the NHL? — that’s up in the air. Boldy’s got to decide what’s best for him here, staying for a third season at BC or going pro.

One has to wonder what he has left to learn at college, though. He’s already one of the NCAA’s five best players, one who’s produced despite missing Newhook half the year. Chasing a National Championship and Hobey might keep from going pro, but otherwise he’s got nothing left to prove.

If he signs with the Wild in the next couple weeks, Minnesota will have a decision on their hands. Do they slow-roll his career and stash him in the AHL, or will he join the big club right away?

The Wild’s surprise success hasn’t changed their plans to handle this season as a transition year. There’s no indication they’ll get aggressive at the trade deadline, despite the underlying numbers suggesting they’re no fluke.

There’s some sense to this. Minnesota has a hefty amount of draft capital, and years of frivolously spending at the deadline still haunts the franchise. But the Wild definitely needs help. They just got routed by the Colorado Avalanche 5-1 on Thursday night, getting out-shot 55-20, and lost the second game 6-0. Their power play sits at 31st in the league, with a pathetic 8.9% conversion rate.

If they’re unwilling to spend even a meager amount of draft capital for a boost, so be it. They should still be looking to improve, to try to win in a tough division, and Boldy can help them.

There are no guarantees with rookies, but Boldy at least has the puck skills, vision, and strength to create easy goals for Minnesota on the power play. He took face-offs on Team USA’s power-play during World Juniors, where he was dominant working around the net. Can the Wild afford to pass on adding that dynamic to their league-worst power play?

Speaking of being able to take face-offs, Boldy can also fill their greatest hole — at center. While he’s been more productive on the wing in Boston College, the Wild can at least put Boldy in a position to succeed. Look at how Kirill Kaprizov single-handedly made buyout candidate Victor Rask relevant again. What could Dolla Bill Kirill do with a player who can match his skill?

Even if the Wild didn’t want to remove Rask from the Kaprizov line, there’s still room for Boldy in the lineup. It’s hard to imagine that Ryan Hartman, typically a bottom-six winger, is a more viable option to center Kevin Fiala than Boldy. And honestly, if Minnesota wanted to play him at wing, is he a worse option than Zach Parise? Probably not!

There are potential drawbacks to inserting Boldy into the NHL right away. Playing in the NHL would burn a year on his three-year Entry Level Contract. If he can contribute, that’s not a big deal, but if he struggles, then it’s a bit of a waste.

On the other hand, there’s an opportunity cost to not playing him this year. Even if they looked pedestrian against Colorado, they’re still a top-5 expected-goals team. With solid goaltending, that’s a team that should try to contend, regardless of pre-season expectations. Will Minnesota really do nothing to prevent their center depth and power play from costing them a playoff series?

If the Wild don’t want to go all-in for a Stanley Cup this season, that’s understandable. With their prospects, bright days may well be ahead. But if Minnesota won’t spend even a small amount to upgrade, or call up Boldy for reinforcements, you have to ask yourself: What are they willing to do to contend?

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