How Matt Boldy Is Raising the Bar in Minnesota

For all of the Minnesota Wild’s structure and regular season success, they’ve seemingly always lacked the kind of bona fide star power that can breakthrough in the biggest moments.

Then Kirill Kaprizov happened. The diminutive dynamo is proving that his rookie campaign was no fluke, as a full year without Victor Rask stapled to his side has resulted in eye-popping production (93 points in 74 games) and an under-the-radar MVP bid. His exceptional skating and puck skills allow him to generate opportunities almost at will. Not only is he the most exciting forward in franchise history, but he’s also the best player the Wild have ever iced. Period.

Though Matt Boldy (34 points in 40 games) may not reach Kaprizov’s heights, the freshman is providing the team with another key offensive spark plug. The 21-year-old’s attacking instincts have jelled seamlessly with Kevin Fiala’s, thus breathing new life into the Wild’s previously frustrating third line. Last season—and early in 2021-22—this was a top-heavy roster. With Kaprizov’s trio tearing it up, Joel Eriksson Ek’s group grinding their competition into dust and the Boldy-Fiala duo cashing in, the Wild now rank fifth in goals per game (3.68). For maybe the first time, Minnesota boasts a playoff-ready offense.

Boldy being so dangerous so soon is due in large part to his hockey sense. His decision-making may lack a bit of polish, but the game never feels too fast for him. He makes instinctive reads in the neutral and offensive zones to put his teammates in plus situations:

This trait has led to dazzling interplay on Minnesota’s third unit. The chemistry between Boldy and Fiala is undeniable, as they’re both continually ready to send and receive passes, slicing through defenses as a united front. Finding a proper foil for Fiala has been particularly important because the Swiss winger’s impact was stifled by subpar partners to start the year. Boldy is ensuring that he gets more and higher-quality touches.

The production has followed: Before Boldy’s arrival from the team’s AHL affiliate in Iowa, Fiala was sitting on seven goals and 21 points in 31 games (55-point pace). Since then, he’s tallied 22 goals and 52 points in 44 games (97-point pace). His scoring rate has nearly rivaled Kaprizov’s over that time frame. That’s a significant bump and a boon for Minnesota’s attack.

Even as a gangly skater, Boldy has no issues keeping up with the fleet-footed Fiala. That’s thanks to his processor. He has an innate feel for his surroundings. As a result, he also displays serious poise with the puck:

Boldy doesn’t panic in possession. He doesn’t rush to dispatch the puck elsewhere. While he can execute the direct play, he has a knack for holding on an extra beat and uncovering a superior look. He recognizes how much time he has and how much more time he can buy. His frame certainly helps in this regard. A 6’2”, 201-pound forward isn’t extraordinary, but his wingspan seems abnormally long for a man of his size. Therefore, he can keep the puck just beyond the reach of opponents.

He’s fearless too, showing a willingness to challenge defenders one-on-one. He isn’t necessarily flying past opponents or dangling through them. Instead, he’s winning the leverage battle via crafty maneuvers. Stutter steps, pivots, shoulder fakes. Once he feels you’ve lost your angle, he springs inside to claim prime real estate and converts that space into a chance for himself or his teammates.

Despite Boldy’s rookie status, he’s already catching veterans slipping on a regular basis.

Better yet, his skill set is yielding stellar numbers. During his 5-on-5 shifts, Minnesota registers 2.73 expected goals (2nd among Wild forwards) and 4.37 actual goals (1st) per 60 minutes. The reason his GF60 is dramatically higher than his xGF60 is killer instinct. Boldy doesn’t settle for controlling the tempo of the game from the outside. He actively seeks to drive the action toward the middle of the ice and test the solidity of your defense:

Notice how many of these feeds come on the backhand. Because of his reach, he can shift the point of attack and manufacture passing angles that players aren’t prepared to defend. In addition to his physical advantages, he possesses high-end vision and touch. He can sense openings and has the soft hands required to feather passes into tight seams.

With 14 goals in 40 games and a 14.9 shooting percentage, he’s also a solid finisher. Consequently, when he sells his shot, defenders have no choice but to respect it.

It’s not an idle threat. He may prefer playmaking, but he’ll pull the trigger if that’s his smartest bet. He does well to elevate pucks in close quarters, has the hand-eye coordination to tip any bid that comes his way and his poise shines again in net-front scrambles:

Now, this isn’t to say Boldy is a fully developed NHLer. He does make questionable choices at times and he has a bad habit of letting tunnel vision take hold on defense. That’s actually why he’s such an exciting prospect: This is just the tip of the iceberg. He only averages 15:30 of ice time, and yet he’s fourth in points per game among Wild players and first among rookies league-wide.

On many nights, Minnesota’s third line looks like its most threatening at even strength. Considering the attention Kaprizov will receive in the postseason, the Wild’s discovery of consistent secondary scoring gives them their best odds of playoff success in a long time.

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