I’ve been saying it for months. The 3-10 range in this class is an absolute blender. Once Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko have had their moment on the stage, any combination of selections to follow are reasonable and plausible. Most years, selecting the best player available is an intelligent avenue. However, with this group being so tightly compacted, we may see teams put a further emphasis on organizational needs.
Now that the lottery balls have been pulled and we know who is selecting where the picture becomes slightly more clear. But the water remains wholly murky when attempting to lock down slots. Over the next 10 weeks, I’ll focus on the North American players from that grouping in this, our Deep Dive Series.
One of those boys in the blender is left-wing, Matthew Boldy.
The 2001 group of Americans that have journeyed through the USNTDP together the last two seasons has been nothing short of exceptional. Four forwards are projected in the top 10, while Cole Caufield and Cam York shouldn’t have to wait much longer to hear their names called. The entire team very well may be drafted in Vancouver this June – an unheard of happening.
The top winger in that grouping is Boldy. At 6’2 187lbs he’s also the most physically mature of the bunch. He uses that size to expertly protect the puck and patiently wait to distribute or finish off a play himself. The Mills, Massachusetts’s native has the full range of offensive abilities and will join Boston College in the fall to enhance them.
Balance and precision are the names of the game when exploring the 18-year-old’s skating stride. He uses a wide stance to create a strong centre of gravity. This aids in providing power and balance to his stride which affords him strength when cutting into high traffic areas.
He offers sharp edges and clean cuts to compliment his overall speed. Here is an example of him using those edges to turn a difficult pass into a goal.
While Boldy doesn’t own elite speed, he’s regarded as a player with average acceleration and good top-end speed. His skating shouldn’t be a hindrance in his path towards the NHL, and as he continues to fill into his frame, the power generated by his base should only improve.
The acceleration has already witnessed improvement from 2017-18 to this season and there have even been some incremental in-season improvements as well. Despite not having blistering speed off of the mark, he uses his processing skills to get a quick jump on loose pucks and anticipate plays developing.
For many, Boldy is considered a playmaker first and foremost. And that is justifiable. The way he can see the ice and distribute the puck is drool-worthy (more on that later), but his penchant for finding the back of the net is nearly as impressive.
There are two aspects of his shot which impress me the most. Firstly, is his ability to release the puck with very little pullback – thus offering less time for a netminder to become set and predict the target. This is a common-theme with deadly finishers. You don’t need the heaviest shot if you can get it off your blade with a quick twitch.
This makes his snap-shot one of his most lethal options, but he also boasts a wrister with a lot of zip and he has a capable one-timer as well. His ability to change the release point to fool netminders is a strength.
The second aspect is his accuracy. Unfortunately, The Program doesn’t provide us with micro stats and heat maps for their players, but having watched him dozens of times over the last two seasons, I can assure you that no angle is too sharp for him. He can pick a corner while on the goal line almost of accurately as he can while being left alone in the slot.
Heading into the World U18 Championships, Boldy has produced 30 goals on 177 shots for a 17 percent conversion rate. Last season with the U17 team, he converted on 18.5 percent of his shots when he scored 29 goals on 157 total shots.
His increase in shot rate – from 2.57 to 3.21 represents his willingness to use his shot more often and not simply defer to his teammates. I believe it has also been the result of his deployment. It should be noted that Boldy was the premier player on the U17 for much of the 2017-18 campaign as Hughes and Alex Turcotte spent much of the season up with the U18s.
That role placed him alongside the sharpshooting, Caufield for nearly all their all-situations minutes. Boldy was able to create space to distribute to Caufield for the finish. This season, he’s played primarily on the second line with Turcotte or Trevor Zegras as his pivot while Caufield spent his season beside Hughes on the top line. That put Boldy in a position to be leaned on to be the finisher on the line for much of the campaign. He did not disappoint.
Of his 30 goals, 22 came at even-strength – while being completely removed from Jack Hughes. That number becomes even more impressive when separating his USHL vs NCAA game sheets. In 17 contests versus Division I opponents Boldy recorded nine goals on 59 shots.
Putting 3.47 shots on net per game as a 17-year-old against NCAA opposition is quality. Converting on 15.2 percent of those shots is damn impressive. For reference, his 0.52 goals-per-game versus Division I teams would’ve ended up as the fourth most of any freshman or sophomore this season – trailing only 21-year-olds, Ludwig Stenlund, and Alex Limoges, as well as 22-year-old, Johnny Walker (not the whiskey guy). Granted, it was a small sample size, but you get the picture.
As mentioned earlier, Boldy has long been known as a playmaking left-winger. He’s earned that billing by providing his teammates with buckets full of grade-A chances. There really is only one word to describe his passing game: silky.
Boldy has creativity in his blood and what appears to be eyes in the back of his head. His ability to hold onto the puck for just the right amount of time for lanes to open and mates to land into soft spots stands out. He blends that ability with extremely soft hands that allow him to thread the needle or saucer it over a stick or two.
He relies on his superior hockey IQ and knack for reading the play as much as he does on the physical action of distributing the puck. Those are all translatable skills and ones I place a great deal of value on when assessing a player.
Boldy’s ability to maneuver in tight spaces is one of his most distinguished qualities. He owns very quick and soft hands that open up space for himself and can draw defenders in before creating plays. Often times a player who can dangle in a phone booth as he can, will lack the ability to carve around and explode through those holes. While Boldy continues to work on his explosiveness, his expert edge work operates hand-in-hand with his dynamic puck-skills.
The puck skills and patience also lead to a ton of controlled zone entries. As we know, those lead to a higher percentage of quality chances. According to Mitch Brown’s tracking metrics, Boldy has operated at a 92 percent rate for attempted controlled entries and was in the 91st percentile for controlled entries per 60 minutes.
Once considered something of a liability in his own zone, Boldy has put many of those fears to rest this season. Through improved effort in the back portion of the rink and applying his intelligence away from the puck, the former Cape Cod Whaler is should now be considered a capable defensive player.
It’s unlikely he’ll ever be confused for Jere Lehtinen, but Boldy offers strong enough skills to provide the coaching staff little pause in rolling him out there with regularity and little fear of opposition opportunities.
As discussed at the beginning of this piece, predicting the order of things on draft day is an exercise in futility. But the tools and IQ that Boldy brings to the table screams productive top-six winger. He can act as a chameleon by tailoring his game to fit the needs of his line. This makes him invaluable to his coaching staff as they can use him to get a line going as a playmaker or finisher.
Those traits will surely make him a target early this June. However, with the emphasis on pivots and blueliners these days, a talented winger like Boldy could find himself sitting there longer than his talent-level would indicate. If this is the case, a team in the 8-11 range will have themselves a steal of a deal
Comparison (*Disclaimer: No two players are exactly alike)
Previously on Prospect Deep Dive:
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- Prospect Deep Dive: Matthew Boldy
- Prospect Ramblings: Camp Rosters for U18 Worlds (April 8)
- Prospect Ramblings: First Update from the U18 Worlds (Apr 20)
- Prospect Ramblings: Second Update from the U18 Worlds (Apr 22)
- Prospect Ramblings: Time for AHL Playoffs
- Prospect Ramblings: Third Update from the U18 Worlds (Apr 24)
- QMJHL Report: First Round of the 2019 Playoffs
- WHL Report: First Round of the playoffs... and beyond