Expectations were high for Matt Boldy when the Minnesota Wild selected him 12th overall at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. After all, that’s usually the case for first-round prospects, especially when they’re drafted as high as the Millis, Massachusetts native. Still, the hope was that his pedigree would lead to becoming a top-six contributor for the Wild one day.
Fast-forward to the 2021-22 NHL season, and Boldy has been exceeding all expectations since his call-up in January. While it’s a small sample size, he’s playing like he belongs on the Wild’s top two lines, and is doing everything that head coach Dean Evason is asking from him. If he can continue on this pace, the 20-year-old could be the difference-maker in Minnesota’s success this season.
Here’s a look at how Boldy got to the point where he’s exceeding expectations, as well as how he’s become one of the Wild’s best players in 2022.
Boldy’s Collegiate Path to the NHL
After the Wild selected him in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Boldy opted to take the collegiate route to the NHL. He had just spent two seasons with the United States National Under-18 Team, so it made sense for him to pursue an NCAA career rather than jumping to the professional level before he was ready. He chose to remain in Massachusetts by playing for the Boston College Eagles, saying that “playing at BC was always a dream of mine.”
Boldy’s decision paid off, because it didn’t take long for him to become a fan favorite at Boston College. He had his ups and downs in his freshman season, finishing the campaign with nine goals and 17 assists in 34 games. His efforts helped the Eagles finish first in the Hockey East Conference with a 17-6-1 record, however, the remainder of the 2019-20 NCAA season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Boldy returned to Boston College better than before in the 2020-21 season. He looked more mature, and was ready to be “the guy” for the Eagles. By the end of the COVID-shortened season, he paced all Boston College players with 11 goals, 20 assists and 31 points in just 22 games. Even though his team didn’t go on a deep run, he still finished his sophomore campaign as a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, which is given to the top NCAA hockey player.
Boldy’s 2020-21 season also involved helping the United States capture a gold medal at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. He didn’t hesitate to be one of his country’s best players, scoring five goals and adding a pair of assists in seven tournament games. By the time Boldy’s World Junior and NCAA obligations were fulfilled, the Wild signed him to his three-year entry-level contract on March 30, burning one of those years by immediately assigning him to American Hockey League (AHL).
AHL Was No Issue for Boldy
Joining Iowa in the middle of the 2020-21 AHL season, people thought that it might take some time for Boldy to get adjusted to that next level. Fortunately, he proved to be an exception to the rule, because it didn’t take long for him to become one of his team’s best players.
Competing against men with much more experience than him, Boldy finished the season with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in just 14 games. What’s even more impressive is that he was only 13 points back of Gabriel Dumont for the team lead in 20 fewer games. Taking Boldy’s points per game (1.29) into account, he was on pace to finish with 44 points had he and Dumont played the same number of games.
Wild fans were hoping to see Boldy in the opening night lineup for the 2021-22 NHL season. Unfortunately, tough luck struck during Minnesota’s preseason, when the promising forward fractured his ankle against the Chicago Blackhawks. He eventually made his return towards the end of November and, fortunately, he put his ankle injury behind him.
Boldy returned to Iowa in style, recording 10 points (four goals, six assists) in as many games. While it may have taken a game or two to shake off the rust that an ankle injury brings, it was clear that he was above the AHL at this point. With nothing left to prove in the minors, the Wild called up Boldy and Marcos Rossi on Jan. 4 with hopes that the dynamic duo could become key players in Minnesota for the remainder of the campaign.
Boldy Feeling at Home in Minnesota
It didn’t take long at all for Boldy to make an impact with the Wild. He made his NHL debut against the Boston Bruins on Jan. 6, seeing 13:13 time on ice (TOI). That’s all he needed to win over Minnesota fans everywhere, beating Boston goaltender Jeremy Swayman for his first career goal, which also ended up being the game-winner.
Boldy hasn’t looked back since his debut. The former first-round talent has racked up 17 points in his first 18 career games. Even though he started the season later than most of the other first-year players, Boldy is tied for 15th in rookie scoring. Considering how Minnesota has 33 games remaining on its schedule, perhaps a late-season run for the Calder Trophy isn’t out of the question.
A big part of Boldy’s success has been his chemistry with linemates Kevin Fiala and Frederick Gaudreau. In 16 games played together, their line is generating 3.88 goals for per 60 minutes, which only ranks behind the Kirill Kaprizov-Ryan Hartman-Mats Zuccarello (5.34) when it comes to Wild linemates who’ve played at least 150 minutes together. Boldy’s line has also allowed 2.11 goals-against per 60, which proves that they’re more than capable on the defensive side of the puck. With instant chemistry tough to come by, expect Evason to keep this trio together for the rest of the season.
Future Is Bright for Boldy
No matter how you look at it, Boldy has exceeded all expectations since his January call-up. It can take time for any prospects, even first-rounders, to take some time to adapt to the NHL, but the Wild were fortunate that wasn’t the case with the 20-year-old forward. Sure, there will be shifts where he might struggle or be outplayed by more experienced players, but that’s all a part of the learning process.
Assuming Boldy continues down this trajectory, the Wild have a legitimate top-six forward on their hands. There are still a lot of games left on the schedule, so only time will tell if he can continue his exciting play down the stretch. Until then, Minnesota fans will continue to marvel at everything Boldy has accomplished and will accomplish this season.
As a lifelong hockey fan and recent Master of Journalism graduate, it’s always been my dream to write about the sport. That’s why you can find me here on THW covering the Minnesota Wild! You may also see my work on FanDuel, the Ottawa Citizen, and various sports betting sites. Follow me on Twitter @devplat!