This is part of a series of profiles on players who might be available for the Buffalo Sabres with the seventh overall pick in the NHL draft on Friday.
For as long as Matthew Boldy can remember, he has always had "elite hands" on the ice.
The 18-year-old winger has modeled his game around Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, spending countless hours before and after practice stick-handling. He used that skill to fool the competition during his final season with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, a remarkable display that has him labeled as ranked as one of the top forwards available in this week's NHL draft.
Boldy is among the best wingers in a draft burgeoning with possible elite NHL centers and hasn't received the attention of some of his NTDP teammates. However, Boldy is the type of dynamic two-way player the Sabres could covet with the seventh overall pick Friday night in Vancouver.
"I love what Boldy can bring," Craig Button, TSN scouting director and former NHL general manager, said. "He's a big, strong, talented kid with a ton of skill. He'd be great for the Sabres. That said, I love all of those guys in the top 10. You can't go wrong if you're picking there."
Boldy could be the Sabres' fallback option if centers such as Trevor Zegras and Dylan Cozens are off the board, and the 6-foot-2-inch forward would hardly be a second-tier consolation prize. Boldy was ranked by NHL Central Scouting as the ninth-best North American skater in this class, a drop of three spots from where he was ranked in January.
While scouts have been captivated by 5-foot-7-inch winger Cole Caufield's elusiveness and ability to score goals, Boldy has been described as a new-age power forward, mixing elite skill with size to allow him to create space in the offensive zone.
That skill set produced 33 goals among 88 points in 64 games for NTDP, and he added three goals among 12 points in seven games at the Under-18 world championship.
"I think being able to use your body and protect the puck and kind of be hard to play against, but doing that in a way that is still super skilled and kind of creative makes it a lot harder for the D to figure out what you’re going to do," Boldy said.
However, like his teammates at NTDP, Boldy was not an overnight success. He arrived at NTDP as a raw prospect who lacked the skating ability required to be one of the top players in his age group but the staff was hopeful that skill could be developed with time.
Boldy's growth spurt – he grew three inches and gained 30 pounds over a three-year span – did not negatively impact him on the ice. His stride wasn't awkward. Instead, Boldy slowly evolved into a well-rounded player who began to show he had the skill to play with talented teammates such as Jack Hughes, Alex Turcotte and Trevor Zegras.
Still, Boldy scored 29 goals among 76 points in 61 games with the NTDP Under-17 team in 2017-18.
"Matt's skating kept improving during his time with us," John Wroblewski, Boldy's coach this past season, said. "He's a power forward with a scoring touch."
The NTDP is USA Hockey's top development program that begins scouting players as young as 14 and selects a team of the country's best Under-17 prospects. Sabres captain Jack Eichel is among the impressive list of alumni who developed into top draft picks at the program's facility in Plymouth, Mich.
Prospects at the scouting combine detailed to reporters how practices are typically more intense than games, with teammates competing against each other daily. This process, Boldy said, is what prepared them for this next step.
Though Boldy's hands have always been his strength, he used his experience at NTDP to learn from his ultra-talented teammates, specifically Zegras, who is regarded by some analysts as the top playmaker in this draft class.
"I think some of it’s kind of natural, just growing up when you’re so young, you don’t even realize it," Boldy, a Boston College commit, said. "But it’s something you kind of work on every day, fiddling with the after and before practice. I mean, you learn a lot from your teammates. Me and Trevor Zegras do a lot with the puck, kind of just messing around a lot."
Story topics: Buffalo Sabres