The 2018-19 U.S. National Development Team Program absolutely dominated the 2019 NHL draft with eight players selected in the first round and 17 players taken throughout the proceedings.
That year, the USNTDP firmly asserted itself as one of the best player development pipelines in hockey in a bigger way than ever before.
The hype around first overall pick Jack Hughes was understandable and Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras, and Cole Caufield received their fair share of praise throughout the process. Spencer Knight was one of the best goalie prospects in years and the defense proved to be an enormous help.
But there was one player that didn’t seem to get his due at the time: Matthew Boldy, a winger who flew a bit under the radar because of the insane talent on the squad.
Despite often being the forgotten forward amongst that group, Body's combination of size and skill was far too intriguing for the Minnesota Wild to pass up at No. 12 overall. He was fourth on that team in scoring with 81 points in just 64 games, using his creativity and intellect in the offensive zone.
Now, after recording 14 points in 14 games in the NHL, it’s safe to say that he looks more than comfortable on the big stage.
The Wild forward has produced everywhere he has gone, save for a short stint to start his freshman season at Boston College. In two seasons at BC, despite that brutal start, he finished his college career at over a point-per-game through his sophomore season before signing his entry-level contract last year and succeeding immediately.
Highlighted by a hat trick against the Detroit Red Wings earlier this week, Boldy is beginning to make his mark. While getting into the Calder Trophy race may be a bit of a stretch considering Detroit's rookies - along with Trevor Zegras and Anton Lundell - have had a ~30 game head start, Boldy is making sure the world knows he is one of the league’s best freshmen.
So what has Boldy been doing that has made his transition to the show so seamless?
Let’s start with his frame. Standing 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds, the Wild’s top rookie is built like a man already and shows it with his puck protection and ability to fight through traffic. Boldy rarely seems to be overmatched physically, extending his inside arm to fend off defenders while pulling the puck along with his other hand. The winger has put defenders on his back on quite a few instances early in his NHL tenure and works the boards as well as any rookie in the league this year. Physically, no problems here.
When it comes to creating space, Boldy has been able to leverage his puck skill and above-average agility for a player his size. There aren’t many players that have his frame with the ability to cut and change direction or stop quickly to create room in the offensive zone. This opens up passing lanes that Boldy is excellent at taking advantage of or it gives him the room to get his shot off from a good spot.
The offensive tools that Boldy brings as a dual-threat are impressive. He is able to identify and open lanes as mentioned but it is his ability to make passes with both touch and pace. Boldy can feather a pass across the royal road on the powerplay from the half wall or he can zip one to the backdoor for a tap-in. As a shooter, Boldy possesses a quick release and whippy wrister. He gets to high danger areas, with the vast majority of his scoring chances coming from the home plate area.
Boldy's defensive game is better than expected as well. He makes good reads, disrupting passing lanes and filling in for his linemates below the dots when necessary. Boldy consistently provides an outlet option for his defenders when the puck is recovered and does a good job of moving the puck up ice with the help of linemate Kevin Fiala, of whom he has found some impressive chemistry.
His production isn’t a fluke to this point either. Boldy’s advanced numbers look solid thus far. Currently boasting a 52.59 Corsi percentage, Boldy is on the right side of the shot share battle on a nightly basis. His 59.03% expected-goals-for is impressive for a rookie, especially when you consider his true goals-for percentage sits at 75.05%. Boldy is shooting 12.65% currently which is a bit high but not unreasonable for a star player. Even if that falls a bit, he should maintain his impressive output on the stat sheet.
When he played with the star-studded NTDP squad, Boldy was often a secondary thought despite being one of their top producers. When he went to Boston College and struggled with only two points in his first 14 games as a freshman, Boldy was quickly labeled a bust by some and forgotten once again. In the AHL, some doubted that he would be able to translate his scoring to the NHL. Now in the NHL, things are looking bright for the budding star.
Boldy has found his home in the Minnesota Wild lineup. There is no question about whether he is good enough to play at the NHL level anymore. The young American has done everything in his power to show that he is a player worth watching. Forgotten no more, the biggest question for Boldy is whether he will be able to keep up this incredible pace through the rest of the season because if he does, he very well could be in consideration for the Calder Trophy with the top rookies in the league, despite the roughly 30-game headstart the rest of the rookie class got.