No player in college hockey experienced a roller coaster of highs and lows this past season quite like Boston College freshman forward Matt Boldy. He experienced one of the most dramatic mid-season turnarounds any NHL prospect has ever had in college hockey. It was a season that deserves a closer look.
Needless to say, expectations were sky-high for Boldy coming into his freshman season at Boston College. He was selected 12th overall by the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the 2019 NHL entry draft—notably, and somewhat controversially, the Wild drafted him over NTDP teammate Cole Caufield, a flashier, more hyped prospect who also happened to hail from the upper Midwest. But despite Boldy not putting up Caufield’s video game-like goal-scoring numbers at the NTDP, there was legitimate reason to believe Boldy might end up being the better pro hockey player. He scored 81 points in 64 games as a member of the U18 team and showed high-energy play-making ability in all three zones of the ice. He absolutely dazzled at the XCel Energy Center last September, taking home game MVP honors at the All-American Prospects Game. He may not have had the ceiling of a 50-goal scorer in the NHL like Cole Caufield, but he definitely showed potential as a top-six forward with a much higher floor.
So it was a shock, to say the least, when Boldy’s freshman campaign at Boston College started as an unmitigated disaster.
It started promising enough, with Boldy scoring a goal in his first collegiate game, a goal that would stand up as the game-winner in a 5-3 victory over Wisconsin. But that would be Boldy’s last goal of 2019.
He would finish the first half of the year going 14 straight games without scoring a goal, and adding only two assists. In mid-December, he was left off the preliminary roster for the USA World Juniors team after being presumed to be a holy lock to make the team at the start of the season. His three points in the first half of the season ranked tied for 31st out of 37 NHL drafted freshman forwards in all of college hockey that season. To complicate matters, the leading scorer among drafted freshman forwards in the NCAA was the player Boldy was inevitably going to be compared against: Cole Caufield, who scored 20 points, including 12 goals, in his first 18 games.
The issues for Boldy seemed clear. First, he began the season with a position switch to center. More naturally a wing for most of his career, Boldy’s offensive game seemed to suffer with the added defensive responsibilities that came with playing in the middle. The other big problem may have just been dumb luck. Even in the midst of his dreadful scoring drought, Boldy was managing to generate shots on goal at a very good pace. The problem was that none of them were going into the net. In the 2019 portion of the season, Boldy averaged 2.80 shots on goal per game, which put him fourth among drafted freshman forwards, trailing only Cole Caufield and 2019 second round picks Robert Mastrosimone and Bobby Brink. But while Caufield and Brink each had shooting percentages in the double digits, Boldy’s shooting percentage was an almost unfathomable 2.4%. Even Mastrosimone, who had a below-average 7.7% shooting percentage was more than three times as likely to see one of his shots on goal go in than Boldy was.
So as ugly as the first half of the season was, there was some underlying data that suggested Boldy could be headed for a big correction in the second half. Boston College’s last game of 2019 would also be the last that Boldy would play as a center. When the team returned from their mid-year hiatus on January 4th, Boldy was listed on the line chart as a left wing and he immediately picked up an assist in an 8-3 win over Vermont. A week later, he would finally get his second goal of the season, scoring 1-1-2 in a win over UMass.
The real breakout for Boldy, however, would come on February 7th, in a game against UMass Lowell. That night, Boston College juggled their line combinations, putting Boldy on a line with fellow freshmen Mike Hardman and Alex Newhook, a first round draft choice of Colorado. That group would play together for the final 10 games of the regular season. Newhook scored 20 points over the final ten games of the regular season, the best in the nation over that stretch. Boldy was tied for 2nd in the nation over that stretch with 16 points in his final 10 games.
During that final 10-game stretch, Boldy wasn’t generating shots on goal in the same way he was in the first half of the season. His average per game was 2.30, a full half a shot per game less than he averaged in the first half. But his shooting percentage corrected itself in a major way. He scored on 30.4% of his shots on goal in the final 10 games. To put it in different terms, Boldy scored just two goals on his first 85 shots on goal of the season, and scored seven times on his final 23 shots on goal.
All told, Boldy finished the second half of the season tied for 5th in scoring nationally with 23 points over his final 19 games, which is a pretty elite scoring pace for college hockey. Only 12 players managed that rate or better over the course of the entire season.
By the too-soon end to the season, Boldy had taken what looked like a completely lost year and turned it into something pretty respectable thanks to a great second half of the season. What we saw in the second half of the season was probably closer to what one should expect from Boldy going forward. He’s an excellent player that was hamstrung by one of the worst runs of shooting percentage in recent memory. It would have added to his versatility if he had been able to stick at center, but a winger that can be effective as he was in the second half of the season is plenty valuable as well. He’s still one of the best pro prospects in college hockey.
If anything, the first half slump may prove to be a benefit over the long run. If Boldy played the entire season like he did in the second half, there likely would have been more pressure to rush him into pro hockey. Instead, Boldy will likely get the opportunity to return to Boston College for his sophomore season and gain an extra year of development before making a jump to pro hockey.