MATT BOLDY LOVES Playing hockey in Minnesota. The way the community supports the sport at all levels. The thousands of fans watching the Minnesota Wild warm up. And, if he’s honest, the level of notoriety an NHL player can achieve after just 47 games on the show.
“It’s crazy. Everyone’s a big fan,” the 21-year-old told ESPN. “You can’t go anywhere without being recognized, which is pretty cool in a lot of ways.”
Of course you can stand out with 39 points in these 47 games. Being the rookie who helped propel the Wild into their most successful regular season in franchise history deserves this recognition.
Marco Rossi watched from afar as his linemate at the AHL Iowa Wild, Boldy, lived the NHL dream. They are both first-round draft picks and are among the best young forwards in the league. Boldy was called up to contribute to the Wild while Rossi got his representatives in the AHL, a year after COVID-19 complications nearly ended his career.
Was it inspirational? If Boldy could do it in the NHL, could Rossi do it too?
“Yes, of course,” Rossi said, laughing. “But I don’t like focusing too much on it.”
Rossi, 20, played two games with the Wilds last season and is hoping to play many more.
“Every hockey player dreams of one day playing hockey in the NHL, just as it has since day one. It’s the best league in the world,” Rossi said. “It would mean a lot to me, but I know no one will give it to me. You have to earn this place.”
Boldy and Rossi are part of the wave of young players that have populated the Minnesota roster over the past few seasons. Joel Eriksson Ek is 26. Jordan Greenway is 25. So is Kirill Kaprizov, the franchise’s biggest star and the face of this youth movement. One of the catalysts for the Wilds’ recent success is the remarkable balance that every NHL team strives to achieve: talented kids versus prolific veterans like Mats Zuccarello, Ryan Hartman and most of their defensive corps.
“We have a good balance. I think part of the beauty of it is that the older guys embrace the youth,” said general manager Bill Guerin. “They are happy to have Boldy on the team. They are happy about Marco. They’re happy to see Greenway and Ek make career moves. You don’t feel threatened by them at all. They want them to be good and they help them. They just want to win. And they realize that we all need each other to do that.”
Now it’s up to Boldy and Rossi to reward that excitement.
OVERPERFORMED BOLDY Guerin’s expectations last season?
“One hundred percent,” said the Wild GM, laughing.
Boldy was drafted 12th overall as a highly qualified winger by the US National Team Development Program in 2019. It was a stellar year for this program, which produced Boldy, first overall pick Jack Hughes, Trevor Zegras and Cole Caufield in this draft class, among others.
He spent two seasons at Boston College and placed in the top 10 for the Hobey Baker Award as a sophomore. He joined the Wild organization in March 2021 and has been hyped as part of that young wave of talented forwards set to lead the squad.
“It’s so cool, honestly, just being in that category with Kirill and watching him every day,” Boldy said. “You look up to these guys. You want to be as good as Kirill. You absorb everything they have to say. But you gotta go out there and earn it.
Last season, Boldy earned a valuable spot in the Wild lineup, playing the vast majority of his minutes with Kevin Fiala, the forward who scored 33 goals and 85 points. He won’t have that luxury this season. Fiala was traded to the Los Angeles Kings; His next contract would be too rich for the Wild’s salary cap situation.
“Kev is great. I mean, I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t a little bit disappointed when I saw him go,” Boldy said. “I understand. There’s also a lot of business in hockey. But he’s a great player. He’s a great team-mate. So it’s hard to see him go, but that’s the nature of the game. You have to find different ways, to score goals and build chemistry with different players. And we have a lot of players on our team who are really good and hopefully they can make me a better player.”
Guerin scoffed at the notion that Boldy could be negatively impacted by Fiala’s departure.
“I’m not worried at all. Kevin is a good player,” said Guerin. “Look, I’m sure Colorado would love it [Nazem] Cadre back. I’m sure Calgary wanted [Johnny] Gaudreau and [Matthew] Tkachuk back. You lose good players. That’s what happens.
“Matt Boldy will be fine. As much as Kevin helped him, he helped Kevin.”
Guerin is more concerned with how Boldy adapts to his opponents’ customizations.
“The thing about these sophomores is that you’re no longer a secret. Everyone knows how good you are,” Guerin said. “An experienced defender knows that if he doesn’t play Matt Boldy hard, he’s going to burn himself. Sometimes it takes a second for a sophomore forward to learn. It’s like, ‘Hey, these guys are playing me differently.’ And it’s like, yeah, because you’re good.”
NOT MARCO ROSSI want to be defined by COVID-19. That much is clear.
“We’re trying not to think too much about what happened like last year,” he said. “I’m concentrating and thinking more into the future than the past at the moment.”
Rossi left the Wild training camp in February 2021 due to complications from COVID-19, for which he had tested positive last November. Rossi was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. He returned to Austria to recover with his family and resumed training in June 2021. He played 63 games in the AHL, along with his brief stint with the Wild in January.
“The hardest part was being patient. It won’t be ready in two weeks or so,” he said. “After the recovery period you have to go back to training and try to get better and that’s not easy.”
Rossi said he worried too much about his heart early in his comeback. Was it really healthy? He would feel something in his chest during the workout and worry. It took a while for him to fully believe that he was 100 percent what the doctors said he was.
“In terms of health, it was a shock. But he came back from it. He’s healthy,” Guerin said.
Rossi was drafted by the Wild in 2020 as a dynamic offensive center for the OHL Ottawa 67, ranked 9th overall. Austrian-born Rossi recalls navigating some cultural differences in North America. Such as the affinity for one of his favorite sports.
“Three years ago in Ottawa I talked about how I like to watch Formula 1,” he recalled. “Not many people knew what that really was or how it worked.”
“They are promoting it so well right now,” Rossi said. “I mean, with the Netflix show now, it’s something that so many people are watching.”
Rossi has his engine primed for the NHL but doesn’t yet know if he’s in the running. The expectation is that he will make the leap into the main squad, but both Guerin and Rossi said that depends on a strong training camp.
“I think he’s going to do very well. He’s a smart kid. He analyzes where he stands. There’s no secret about his work ethic and his competitiveness,” said Guerin. “I think his game will transition well but he has to do it on the first try. He has to come in and prove himself.”
Boldy, his friend and potential ally, thinks he will.
“He can play,” said Boldy, laughing. “I think he’s just a really, really good skater. Really good on his edges. He’s got a lot of speed. He’s smart and he scores goals. He can pass. He kind of has everything. He definitely has every tool you need be successful.”
Thanks to this balance between established and up-and-coming talent like Boldy and Rossi, the savages now have the tools too.
“It’s really good. It’s a good mix between us,” said Rossi. “Because the younger kids can learn a lot from the older guys and just like the older guys can learn a lot from the young guys. You can see that everyone likes each other. It helps a team to get to the end .”
https://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/34662468/matt-boldy-marco-rossi-future-minnesota-wild Matt Boldy, Marco Rossi and the future of the Minnesota Wild